The Reign of Christ. Book Two. Chapter Twelve: The Fourth Law: the Restoration of the Ministries of the Church
17 min read
17 min read
Further, since it has pleased the Lord that his religion be planted and kept watered by suitable ministers (I Cor. 3:5-8), and that he therefore give to the churches in which he deigns fully to restore his Kingdom, ”besides apostles and evangelists, also pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11) in order to dispense all the mysteries of God in the Church by a permanent ministry, about which we have already said something, it will have to be incumbent on Your Majesty with all his might that in the churches throughout his realm the sacred ministries be securely restored according to the institution of the Holy Spirit, as soon as this is possible.
This task will be of utmost difficulty, as there has frequently been, sad to say, an almost infinite perversity in every rank and order of the clergy, and as Antichrist strenuously protects his fortress and his plunder, closing off every approach to the Kingdom of Christ as soon as he can. But because the restitution of these ministries is not difficult to the same degree as it is necessary for the salvation of the elect of God, Your Majesty must take thought that just as all things are possible to Almighty God they are also possible to one who has faith (Mark 9:23; Matt. 17:20); indeed, all things are easy, if a pious and consistent effort is made, with assiduous work.
Now, we learn from a review of the churches since the time of the apostles that it has also seemed good to the Holy Spirit that among the elders to whom ecclesiastical administration is chiefly committed, one exercises singular care for the churches and the sacred ministries and in that care and solicitude presides over all the others (Acts. 20:28). For this reason, the name of bishop has been especially attributed to these chief administrators of the churches, even though these should decide nothing without the consultation of the other presbyters, who are also called bishops in the Scriptures because of this common ministry (Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:7). Thus Your Majesty will have to undertake first of all the reformation of the order of bishops.
As these precede all the rest of the orders of the sacred ministry in dignity and have a primary mandate of concern for the churches, they ought also to burn with a will and a zeal before all others for rightly ministering to the churches and they should excel in every opportunity to build them up. One who is but a little acquainted with the Holy Scriptures, the writings of the ancient churchmen, and the laws of pious emperors knows that this has been amply sanctioned and handed down and is also strictly required by divine laws, the holy canons of the early churches, the writings of all the holy fathers, and finally also by many sanctions of pious princes.
It is therefore necessary that bishops before all other ministers and caretakers of the churches, putting away from themselves all the matters and affairs of the world, devote themselves totally to the reading and teaching of the Holy Scriptures, pouring forth private and public prayers to God; and to all kinds of ministry both of the doctrine and the discipline of Christ, adorning these with an exemplary life so as to render themselves more commendable to the people of God; and also to the care of schools and the Poor.
It is also their duty to watch and see to it that individual churches have their approved pastors and ministers who do their pastoral work so faithfully and so carefully that not only the rest of the clergy give blameless and holy service to the churches, whatever their special ministerial responsibility may be, but also that individual persons among the people are preserved from any fall into sin, as much as this is possible, and if they have fallen, that they are raised up again through salutary penance and make steady progress in piety.
For this reason, each bishop ought to visit his diocesan churches annually if he is in any way able to do so in view of his health and the more serious affairs of the Church. Whatever faults he may find to have crept into the doctrine or discipline of Christ he ought to correct with pious severity, and offer corrective preaching and stabilize the entire administration of religion according to Christ’s precepts.
One should read and weigh diligently what the Holy Spirit has prescribed concerning the office of bishops in the twentieth chapter of Acts (vs. 28 ff.), in the letters to Timothy (I Tim. 3:1-7) and Titus (ch. 1:5-9), in the fifth chapter of First Peter (vs. 1-4) ; likewise, the canons of the early councils may be read, indeed also what Gratian has compiled from the various councils and rescripts of the holy fathers, from the twenty-third to the ninety-sixth distinction. He has indeed intermingled much hearsay and superstition, especially about the celibacy of those ministering to the churches, about the boundless tyranny of the Roman pontiff, and about some matters alien to Christ’s pure religion; meanwhile, however, he offers a great number of things very worthy of reading and necessary for the restoration of the churches. These things the holy fathers derived from the very canon of the Holy Spirit concerning sacred ministries and they amply explained them. One should further read what pious emperors have decreed concerning the office of the priests of Christ (Code concerning Bishops and Clerics) , and in Authentica VI, “How Bishops Should Act,” and in the hundred and twenty-third, “Various Ecclesiastical Chapters.” 20 Although some things foreign to the canon of the Holy Spirit have been interjected here, as those concerning the celibacy and monasticism of the ministers of the Church, all the rest are evidently dependent on the same canon of the Holy Spirit. One should also read the third book of Chrysostom, “On the Dignity of the Priesthood,” (John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood III) “The Apologist” of Saint Gregory Nazianzen, (Gregory Nazianzen, Apologetic Oration II) Saint Jerome, “To Nepotianus,” (Jerome, Letter LII) and also the writings which other holy fathers have left concerning this office.
Since, therefore, we know not only from Holy Scripture and the writings of the holy fathers, but also from the regrettable experience of too many centuries (with bishops being lax in their office, not to mention their completely overturning it, as they have been doing for such a long time), that Christ’s religion is waning terribly both among the other leaders of the churches and also among the people; and since we know that massive impiety and impurity of life take hold of everything in demanding ways, it certainly will be Your Royal Majesty’s duty to establish and to carry through with greater resources a complete reformation of the episcopal order and office, i.e., a restoration to that form which the Holy Spirit in his Scriptures has left clearly described for us, a summary of which I have just presented.
Today, however, some nominal bishops are allowed to hold episcopal sees in Your Majesty’s realm who all too openly demonstrate by their way of life and all their actions that they are in no way qualified to assume true responsibility for the care and the edification of the churches, so that the churches will be harmed by them day by day in both spiritual and temporal affairs if the highest government of the churches is entrusted to them.
But it would be inhumane, many say, to deprive someone of the dignity and income which he has received and owned according to the custom of so many centuries. For, as I have complained before, certain people are moved by much greater mercy for those who have once seized the income of the churches even by most manifest sacrilege, when they are kept from plundering the churches, than for Christ’s churches themselves which they so wretchedly despoil not only externally but also of the very religion of Christ.
Whatever Your Majesty decides, for the sake of public peace and humaneness, toward those who cannot or will not remove or disengage themselves from such a long-established heap of errors, namely, to leave the bishops some part of the ecclesiastical spoils, this will have to be regulated in such a way that the churches lack nothing necessary for the fulfillment of the episcopal office.
Cephas, Paul, and Apollo, and the whole world belong to the churches of Christ; the churches, however, belong to no one but our one King and Lord Jesus Christ, just as he belongs to God (I Cor. 3:22-23). Their well-being, therefore, must be placed ahead not only of the deplorable greed of the false bishops but also of all apparent advantages of the world. The churches are the brides of Christ the Son of God, whom he has acquired for himself by his own blood; for this reason, they commit the crime of lese majesty who for any cause that can be feigned detract anything from the rights of the churches or do not stand in the way of detractors when they can and should.
The ancient churches had the custom, if a bishop ever became useless for his ministry, through age or sickness, of supplying someone as a coadjutor for him, to discharge the episcopal duty for the people of Christ in the interim; how much more, therefore, must those suitable for the episcopal office be substituted today for those who, in sickness of spirit and poor health of mind, prevent the churches from having true bishops, so much so that they are not only useless to the churches but even harmful.
For what greater harm could they do to the churches than that, since they hold the places of bishops, they not only do not themselves administer the doctrine and discipline of Christ for the people but do not make ministration available through others; indeed, they confer priesthoods, and sometimes more than one, on those who, besides depriving the churches of any pastoral care, even confuse them with false teaching and by an impure life draw them completely from the obedience of Christ as far as possible. They take no interest in establishing schools or caring for the poor, but they squander the episcopal income mostly on profane persons and the secular pomp in which they parade themselves like satraps.
Whoever, therefore, will be found among the bishops both rightly animated and properly instructed for doing their duty, to these it will be convenient for Your Majesty to have proposed that general summary of the doctrine and discipline of Christ, of which I have made mention, (Book Two, Chapter Four) after using them as chief counselors in the cause of religion, and also as general examiners, as I have also mentioned; it should be required of them that they swear according to this formula or statement that they will administer their episcopal office in good faith. This oath will not only have the advantage that these bishops will be held to their promise, but also that those who complain that they are too severe when they advance the reformation enjoined, can be told that this zeal is necessary on account of this oath. Thus the work of pious reformation already begun can be carried on and completed with less offensiveness and resentment of curable men.
But because it is the duty of the bishops to administer the churches not by their own arbitrary judgment alone, but with the counsel of presbyters and the ministry of deacons, it will be necessary, inasmuch as the ministries of the churches are now all dissipated and disordered, to join to each of the bishops, even if he is much approved, a certain council of presbyters and the ministry of deacons. These presbyters and deacons will also have to be earnestly examined and tested to see whether they have received it of the Lord that they can and desire to be of assistance to their bishop in the administration and care of the churches, the presbyters as helpful counselors and the deacons as obedient ministers.
In this examination and probation, the bishop to whom these presbyters and deacons are to be adjoined should be especially listened to as if he were a kind of consul to whom they are attached as senators and subordinates so that as he himself acknowledges them to be worthy of the position and on this account receives them with stronger love, he will use them, their advice, and ministry for the edification of the churches both more willingly and more graciously.
And for this reason an oath should be required also of these men with the promise that they will faithfully fulfill their office and serve the bishop in good faith and utmost reverence, in the care of the churches. And when these presbyters and deacons, who are the special helpers and assistants of the bishops in the administration of the churches, have been chosen by those general examiners and assigned to bishops, by Your Majesty’s order, this will both free the bishops from resentment of this choice and provide even greater authority to such presbyters and deacons in the churches.
The most important and highly urgent consideration in all these things here is that Your Majesty must leave nothing untried and so establishes all things that the churches may have the prospect of true and suitable ministers, and that these enjoy in the churches the highest influence and authority.
Now, since it is necessary for bishops to be unburdened of every concern for external affairs so that they may concentrate entirely on obtaining the salvation of souls, it seemed good to the fathers of old that bishops, even those unwilling, be given managers elected from the clergy and the people of Christ in order that they would regulate the revenue of every bishopric. It will therefore be within Your Majesty’s prerogative to summon bishops for this purpose from external affairs to the fulfilment of their special duty. In this matter, Your Royal Highness should attribute much more importance to the decree of the Holy Spirit given through Saint Peter when, with the suffrage of the Church, he established seven deacons to care for widows and the poor than to the wisdom or greed of any mortals. “It is not,” says the apostle, “pleasing,” namely, to God and all who judge with the Spirit of God, “for us to wait at tables and leave the ministry of the word of God. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2-4).
It is required, indeed, that the managers, deacons, and subdeacons administer the affairs of the Church, according to the law of the Lord, with the knowledge and approval of the bishop and his board of presbyters, about which we have spoken. To them they should give an accounting at stipulated times. But the actual administration of ecclesiastical business should be carried on, not through the bishops, but through the managers, deacons, and subdeacons so that the bishop may be able to have time for a freer and more efficient administration of religion. This matter certainly demands vigilance of spirit and concentration which would allow no concern at all for other things.
There are already now those among the bishops whose help Your Majesty uses in the administration of the realm who make Your Majesty’s sailing more tolerable at this time, in this veritable storm of the churches, because they can act for Your Majesty both in a more timely fashion and with greater success for the cause of Christ’s religion, which patently requires agents in this position who are keen and vigilant. The less they are able to take an interest in their churches, not only because of absence but also because of preoccupation with the affairs of the realm, the more it is necessary that both the presbytery and the ministry we have suggested be assigned to them; but in order that everything concerning the administration of the churches which are entrusted to such bishops may be done more harmoniously and in an orderly way, it will be necessary that individual bishops in this category have some vicar appointed for them from among the presbyters who will faithfully exercise all the episcopal functions while bishops involved in the affairs of the realm are absent from the churches. And it will be appropriate for these vicars to be approved in religion and inducted in the same manner as those presbyters and deacons are conjoined to the bishops in the care of the churches.
For since nothing in this sphere of the care of men has been recommended by the Most High which ought to be carried on and cared for more solicitously and conscientiously than concern for religion, that is, the eternal salvation of God’s elect, it would be a supreme outrage to put any other affairs ahead of that concern or to place any obstacle in the path of the Church’s complete fulfillment of her ministries. Moses was richly gifted with the Spirit of God, and he excelled in incredible wisdom, and he also burned with a most ardent zeal for the planting and preservation of true religion; but when he had to govern the entire commonwealth of Israel, by God’s command he put his brother Aaron, with his sons, in charge of religion, so that they could concentrate entirely on this. For this reason, the ministry also of the Levites was dedicated to them, and there were many thousands of them (Ex. 29:1-35; Num. 3:39; 8:5-26; 26:57-62).
The Maccabees indeed conjoined civil and ecclesiastical administration; but history testifies with what success (I Macc. 14:47). On this account, it is to be wished that the bishops, according to the law of God, will concentrate on taking care of religion only and leave all other matters, however helpful to mankind, to those who totally dedicate themselves to them and have been divinely prepared to specialize in them. The early churches religiously observed this way of procedure and it was highly useful to the churches. They started horribly to collapse and disintegrate as soon as the Franks and other kings began to use bishops in civil affairs.
This holy work certainly cannot be entrusted in good conscience to those bishops who, up to this time, have had the position of bishops but have clearly neglected the episcopal office and have even opposed the pure doctrine and the real discipline of Christ. For the law of God, to which heaven and earth should yield, demands that no one should be admitted to this function unless he has been thoroughly investigated and sufficiently tested that he is equipped with singular knowledge of the Kingdom of Christ and burns with very great zeal for it (Rom. 12:7-8; I Tim. 3:10; 5:22; Titus 1:7-9). Whatever humaneness therefore, as we have just said, it seems good to Your Majesty to show to these men, it should certainly be so tempered that meanwhile the churches, which they have occupied and laid waste up to this time, may not be lacking either true ministers or coadjutors for the episcopal office.
Nor should Your Majesty listen to those who say that bishops of this kind (who are not really bishops) are now prepared to receive and follow Your Majesty’s decrees concerning religion and should therefore be left in the administration of their episcopal office. However, the fact that they do not assent to the royal decrees wholeheartedly but rather for the sake of keeping their episcopal dignity and wealth is sufficiently obvious from their perpetual neglect, indeed, perversion, of the episcopal office up to this time, from the papistic superstitions they still retain as much as they have dared to retain them in their fear of coming to royal notice, and from the fact that not even today they accept anything of the established Reformation, nor promote it, except what they have been compelled to do by Your Royal Majesty’s authority. (The Act of Uniformity, 1549)
Whatever they now pretend, either verbally or in public sermons, or whatever they otherwise profess, the rule of the Holy Spirit which forbids that neophytes, i.e., recent converts to the faith of Christ, be admitted to this order should prevail against these aposkopoi (A play on episkopoi to denote a ‘false/apostate bishop’) (I Tim. 3:6). Nor do these men demonstrate anything similar to the knowledge and zeal for building up the churches of Christ such as shines forth in Saint Paul, Ambrose, and some others, according to which this chapter of the sacred canon was devised. If the Holy Spirit forbids recent converts to Christ to assume the order of priests or bishops, even though they have sufficiently demonstrated their conversion to the churches of God by worthy fruits of faith, unless the power of the Holy Spirit is so outstanding in them that it is clearly apparent that they are summoned to the sacred ministry of the Church by the Holy Spirit, is it then not clear how much this prohibition of the Spirit must be applied to those who so far have shown themselves, enemies of Christ’s Kingdom and until now have not manifested any change of mind by any fruits that would prove this? For it is not enough for someone in order that he take on this responsibility that he can preach well; what must be required, as I have already advised, is a solid knowledge of the whole pastoral function and a permanently solicitous concern for the building up of the churches, and each of these must be thoroughly investigated and approved for the churches on the basis of the candidate’s past life.
Just as it is the duty of bishops to work vigilantly and efficiently (cf. II Tim. 4:5) that in the individual churches commended to the episcopal charge of each, approved and faithful pastors serve the interests of religion in a conscientious way (and there is, sad to say, all too small a number .of these today, with men in possession of parishes who either cannot or will not discharge their pastoral duty), an accurate and strict visitation must be undertaken in the beginning by each bishop who has parishes in his trust. In this matter they will have to have the help of Your Majesty’s authority and power, insofar as among those laying waste the churches in the office of pastors there has obtained and prevailed an imprudent audacity as intolerable as their numbers and the patronage prepared for them by many people. The reality itself therefore demands that Your Majesty enjoin the bishops, on the occasion of that first visitation of the churches, to drive out the wolves, thieves, and hirelings from the fold of Christ, with the help of men endowed with great influence and authority in his realm, and properly equipped with Your Majesty’s mandates adequate for this purpose. For here again a strong attempt will be made to cause trouble by that preposterous and impious recommendation of mercy toward the wolves, thieves, and robbers of the sheep of Christ (John 10:8 and 12), if they are to be kept from scattering and losing the sheep of Christ and from despoiling the churches through manifest sacrileges. What good does it do to count them as Christians when they doubt that the glory of Christ and the eternal salvation of his sheep are to be put ahead of the seeming advantages of the whole world, not to mention the wicked greed of the enemies of Christ.
If, however, any of these men injuriously occupying parishes truly mend their ways, and, having rejected their impiety, are converted to the Lord, the churches must make sure that they have the necessities of life, so that nothing is wanting for them to live well and piously, as we have testified previously.
But when they continue to show themselves enemies of the Kingdom of Christ, what humaneness or charity would it be, I ask you, to nourish and foster them in such very bad crime? To be sure, we must feed even our enemies if they are hungry and give them drink if they thirst (Rom. 12:20), but in such a way that they will not find an opportunity in this kindness for making trouble for the churches of God, or for despoiling them of all spiritual and material advantages.
Here we must think and really do what the Lord said to the crowds who were following him: “If anyone comes to me, and does not hate his father, and his mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own soul, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). And Moses said in praise of the Levitic tribe: “Who said of his father and mother, I regard them not, and disowned his sons, and did not acknowledge his brothers, these observe your word, and keep your covenant” (Deut. 33:9).
But here, too, it will be objected that there is such a small number available of those who are fitted for this office of properly administering the churches. To this objection I make the same answer as before: First, if they are really sought earnestly, many more will be found than are now judged to be available. Secondly, inasmuch as very few men of this quality can be found, it is better for the churches to have no pastors than those who are actually wolves, thieves, robbers, or at least hirelings. For whoever seeks his own and not the things that are Christ’s can only be harmful to the churches. Furthermore, the parishes which cannot yet be given pastors ought in the interim to be helped by neighboring pastors. Finally, if the proper reformation of the universities is accomplished, as previously indicated, (Book 2, Chapter 6) the Lord will daily furnish men who can usefully serve the churches. And whatever difficulty exists in this matter on account of our negligence and crooked desires, nevertheless the word of God can yield to no creature. Since he saves eternally those who obey him and condemns forever those who repudiate him, let us not doubt that this must be put before the wisdom and the will of all men. For we know that it has been ordered that every bishop and priest ought to be not only irreprehensible, but also singularly adorned with all manner of virtues (I Tim. 3:2-7), and tenacious in faithful speech for teaching the people of Christ, “that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine, and also to confute those who contradict it” (Titus 1:7-9). Likewise, the ministries of Christ are “to be entrusted only to men who are faithful and suitable to teach others” (II Tim. 2:2). And again, they must first be tested and thus admitted to these ministries (I Tim. 3:10; 5:22).
Further, as men easily relapse into worse things, this must also be enjoined on the bishops that each must inspect his churches not only every year, in the company of some persons selected from the primary presbytery and the diaconate adjoined to him for the administration of the churches, but as often as he understands that there is some wrong being done in the churches against either the doctrine or the discipline of Christ.
But in order that the bishops may know about it in time if any such thing is the case, the old division of dioceses must be restored so that out of every twenty or so parishes one of their administrators who seems suited for this function before the others should be put in charge as auxiliary bishop who will be especially on guard on behalf of these churches against the snares and insults of Satan, and if there is anything which he cannot himself correct either among his colleagues or among the people commended to his care, he should refer it to the bishop as soon as possible.
And so that nothing may go without correction or punishment this officer should frequently, at specified times, call his colleagues together and by means of explanations of the Holy Scriptures and exhortations derived from them, and also by pious conversations among all of them, strengthen the faith and knowledge of Christ both for himself and for his colleagues and kindle more and more their desire and zeal for the Kingdom of Christ. These suffragan bishops should also visit the people of each area commended to them, when the concerns of their own parishes permit, and administer to them the word of eternal life, especially to those parishes which have pastors less learned or fervent for the Kingdom of Christ.
Furthermore, it will be the duty of the bishops of each province to hold two synods annually, as it has been provided for in so many canons and laws of pious emperors. At these synods there should be gathered and heard not only the bishops of the cities, but also the rural bishops and other priests and deacons who have been gifted with fuller knowledge of and zeal for the Kingdom of Christ, in order that the evils which have crept into the churches may be corrected more effectively, and the piety of all renewed.
It will be very useful to these synods if Your Majesty appoints men zealous for Christ’s religion and endowed with the highest authority to preside with the metropolitan in the synods, in Your Majesty’s name, and keep decent order, as pious emperors and kings of old were accustomed to do for the highest good of the churches. Indeed, they sometimes themselves presided at the synods and took part in the disputations, as did Constantine, in a praiseworthy way, at the celebrated Nicene Council, and some other emperors and kings in other councils, as one can read in the acts of the ancient councils. For since all souls are subject to the rule of kings (Rom. 13:1), it is their duty to be concerned above all else that the Christian religion and the priestly office in which is contained the eternal salvation of all souls be administered in a holy and salutary manner and preserved from every failing.
Thus the churches await from Your Majesty this fourth law by which the entire order of the clergy may be restored and really led back to the discipline of the Holy Spirit as here outlined.