Trialogus. Chapter 13. On the Sacrament of Orders
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9 min read
I do not see that anything can be done by treating further of this matter, or that any great advantage attends it, though the custom of the court of Rome, or the ancient custom of the church, may hold it proper; since this is no more a sufficient evidence in favour of this sacrament, than would be the antiquity of the abuses of the prelates, if adduced to justify their faults. But I pray you, discuss simply the sacrament of orders, and the manner in which it should be defined; and, in the first place, what order is.
In my opinion, this sacrament of order is sufficiently analogous, and its sign accordingly is very equivocal. For since order is the state or position of a creature, according to the Divine ordinance, it appears that, as there are many orders among angels, so there are among every created sublunary multitude. Moreover, those who break Christ’s order, are to be punished, it is said, without end. Secondarily, the term order is used to express, by a kind of antonomasia, the state or possession of a new religion, as if Antichrist were before the ordinance and rule of Jesus Christ. Thirdly, with greater strictness, and more to the purpose, that power given to the priest by God, through the ministry of the bishop, in order to his due ministering in the church, is called order. This ordination is commonly conferred at a holy time, with a solemn fast, and accompanied by masses and other ceremonies: whence it is commonly said, that ordination is not conferred on a priest, save when the bishop imparts to him the Holy Ghost, and impresses the priestly character on his mind. And so indelible is this last, that be the priest degraded, or happen what may to him, this character is inseparably attached to him. Similar is the opinion concerning the character impressed in baptism.
One thing I confidently assert, that in the primitive church, or the time of Paul, two orders were held sufficient,—those of priests and deacons. No less certain am I, that in the time of Paul, presbyter and bishop were the same, as is shown in 1 Timothy 3. and Titus 1. That profound theologian Jerome attests the same fact, see lxxxvii. Dis. ca. Olim. For there were not then the distinctions of pope and cardinals, patriarchs and archbishops, bishops, archdeacons, officials, and deacons, with other officers and religious bodies, without number or rule. As to all the disputes which have arisen about these functionaries, I shall say nothing; it is enough for me, that, according to Scripture, the presbyters and the deacons retain that office and standing which Christ appointed them, because I am convinced that Cæsarean pride has introduced these orders and gradations. If they had been necessary to the church, Christ and his apostles would not have held their peace about them. So that those blaspheme who extol the rights of the pope above Christ. But the office of the clergy, the catholic may best learn from Scripture, in the epistles to Timothy and Peter. Nor must he, on pain of incurring serious guilt, allow admission to Cæsarean innovations. But here I doubt not vast numbers are guilty.
The root of this blasphemy, which hath turned the church upside down, is found in this, that the clergy, shrinking from the poverty of Christ, entangle themselves thus with the world. Hence it is plainly seen of what sort is their order, inasmuch as when they should beget sons like Christ and the apostles, they adulterously beget sons of Antichrist. And by this means is the kingdom of Antichrist fenced about, and the kingdom of their master the devil set above that of Christ. I have brought forward many proofs elsewhere to make plain the duty of the king and of the military order in such case. As Augustine saith, “As the pope is the vicar of Christ, so the king is the vicar of God;” which I understand as follows: As the pope ought to follow the humanity of Christ, living like him and his apostles, in poverty and reproach, and enduring contempt with a patience surpassing other men; so the king ought to be the vicar of the Deity, restraining with severity, by his coercive power, the rebellious, and the violators of God’s commandments. So speaks the apostle, Romans 13.
I have elsewhere brought forward many reasons to show that the clergy ought to live a life of poverty after the manner of Christ. In the first place this appears from the old law, Numbers 18. 20, 21: “And the Lord spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land, neither shalt thou have any part among them: I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel. And behold I have given the children of Levi all the tenth for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.”
If then a prelate, and such as live on tithes, strengthen themselves by means of the second part of this Divine authority, to seize tithes greedily for their own gain, why do they not as eagerly embrace the first, out of love to Christ, who was poor? To the same effect, in Deut. xviii. it reads thus: “The priests the Levites, and all the tribe of Levi, shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel: they shall eat the offerings of the Lord made by fire, and his inheritance. Therefore shall they have no inheritance among their brethren: the Lord is their inheritance, as he hath said unto them.” If these commandments of the Lord under the old law are so strict in forbidding the clergy to hold possessions; and Christ and his apostles, in the time of the law of grace observed this same command more strictly still, who can be a greater heretic or Antichrist than that clerk, who shall contradict these lessons more than the men who lived under the old law? To the same effect, Ezekial 44.—“I am their inheritance: and ye shall give them no possession in Israel; I am their possession, and they shall eat the meat-offering, and the sin-offering, and the trespass-offering; and every dedicated thing in Israel shall be theirs, and the first of all the first-fruits of all things, and every oblation of all, of every sort of your oblations, shall be the priests: ye shall also give unto the priests the first of your dough, that he may cause the blessing to rest in thine house.” If then in the time of the old law, when the people were more earthly in every respect, as being young, and not wise as yet in heavenly things, the clergy were so restricted in things temporal, by the command of the Lord, how much more ought it to be observed, since Christ has followed, both God and man, living a life of the greatest poverty; and since the lives of apostles have repeated the same lesson in work and example? It is plain, then, that if any men have become, by violation of the law of the Lord, heretical apostates or blasphemers, these clergy are they, even the bishops who so notably offend herein. Two other laws are proclaimed in Genesis 2. and Ezekial 16. If therefore the bishop be horned with a mitre, to denote that he knows and observes both testaments, who can be said to belie Christ more in blasphemy than the prelate who is endowed and enriched with worldly possessions, even above kings?
Brother, you have shrewdly fed our bishops with five barley loaves, the Pentateuch of Moses, as figured in John 6. But inasmuch as our prelates pretend that these commandments of the old law were ceremonial, and should be terminated by the law of grace, I pray you confirm your opinion, if you can, by a reference to the law of grace.
It appears to me, that bishops instructed in the faith need no further confirmation in regard to this doctrine, since it follows by position from the major—if the bishops did so under the old law, then the bishops under the law of grace should observe the same rule: especially since Christ and his apostles have observed it, in deed (which teaches more forcibly,) as well as in word, which is sufficiently binding. As Christ on the second occasion of feeding the multitude fed four thousand with seven loaves and a few small fishes, as appears from Matthew 15 and Mark 8., so, out of my abundance I will adduce a sevenfold testimony from the law of grace in favour of this same doctrine. In Luke 14., after the parable of the Lord, he adds, “So every one of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”
What Christ meant in these words, by “forsaking,” he and his apostles have sufficiently shown by the poverty of their lives; for the actions of Christ and his disciples are the best interpreters of his law. To the same effect is the passage—“The servant is not greater than his Lord.”—Matthew 10. Since Christ is the best Master, and the Lord of lords, and all prelates should be servants and disciples of this Lord, it is clear that they ought not to be raised above Christ in secular dominion. But Christ saith, (Matthew 8.,) that “the Son of man hath not where to lay his head,” that is, that in his humanity, he had not any such place; in a worldly sense, in his own proper right of possession. How, then, have our Cæsarean bishops the boldness to extol themselves above Christ in civil dominion? Our Lord, on a dispute arising between his disciples, (Luke 22.) as to who of them should be the greatest, said, manifestly with reference to the sensible superiority of the world, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them,” &c. He distinguishes, clearly as noonday, between the superiority of the world, and superiority in regard to God—denoting the former by the lordship of the kings of the Gentiles. They are especially called “benefactors,” because they confer temporal favours on their subjects, and abate the wrongs to which they are exposed, though they are themselves too often tyrants. The second, or apostolic superiority, our Lord explains, when he absolutely forbids the followers of the Gospel to seek after the former, adding, “But ye shall not be so.” To this prohibition, accordingly, Berenger often directed the attention of Pope Eugenius. Christ afterwards sets forth the attributes of the apostolic superiority, which is a superiority simply in regard to God, and shows that whoever among them is the most humble in Spirit, possessed of the greatest charity, and the most diligent in his ministry, is the greatest.
But after the clergy were given to the world, and learnt to despise the commandments of the Lord, and gave little heed to Christ’s decision hereupon, the disciples of Antichrist said in their hearts, “Christ is contrary to our practice. He taught nothing of that refinement, so necessary for the world, but lived in misery and dishonour, like a beggar. Who, then, would follow in his footsteps, unless he were a fool?” From this threefold testimony in the Gospel the aforesaid doctrine is educed, and it is confirmed by the Old Testament.
Passages from the writings of the apostles attest the same truth, for the apostle who was snatched up into the third heaven delivered to prelates this rule,—“Having food and raiment be therewith content.”—1 Timothy 6. And he says food simply, not delicacies; and for covering, he does not speak of scarlet, nor of dwelling in sumptuous apartments. And by teaching us to be content with such things, he prohibits superfluity therein, which tends to the burden of the church, and the abandoning of our office. To the same effect Peter, the chief of the apostles, enjoins upon us, that we be not as “lords over God’s heritage,” but that we should be willingly abased for the service of the flock, not studying how we may play the lord over those put under us. Now I ask, whether the prelates, in grasping at castles and estates, lord it over God’s heritage or not; and do they so or not, when they are contriving how they may adorn themselves in the most splendid and imposing manner, without ever thinking of the burdens they lay on the church? But the life of Christ and his apostles shows in what sense they understood that language.
To the same effect speaks the apostle, (2 Corinthians 8) saying, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, how he was rich, yet for your sakes became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” Since, then, all believers are, undeniably, to follow Christ in their character, the clergy must of necessity follow him in their own order, especially in his humble poverty; whence our religious orders in their confession, (would it were not a false one!) unite in regarding as the substance of their religion, the obedience paid to Christ, the poverty and chastity which they maintain for the cause of him.
In the sixth chapter of the Acts, we find that seven deacons were ordained, because, according to the decree of the apostles, sent forth after the descent of the Holy Spirit, it was not fit for them to leave the service of the living God, to serve tables. But who can doubt that the prelate gives himself too much to worldly affairs, who abandons Christ’s office, and entangles himself in the sort of life required by the world? Yet the apostle saith, (2 Timothy 2) that “no man that warreth, entangleth himself with the affairs of this life.” Accordingly, since no one takes this honour unto himself, but he who is called of God, it is plain that the worldly prelate hath this honour from the devil, unto whom he hath approved himself. Then, at the commencement of Luke 14., we are taught that such a man cannot be the disciple of Christ, but is the disciple of Antichrist; and so since he presumes to be greater than his Lord, Jesus Christ, it is plain that he is not his disciple or his servant, but rather the disciple of Antichrist. And now with these seven loaves, not barley ones indeed, but unpalateable enough, the people may have their fill of prelates, and the aforesaid doctrine be confirmed. Other fragments from the doctors, and arguments which some multiply on this subject, we need not collect, for these complete testimonies, adduced from the old and new law, are sufficient to confirm this doctrine in the eyes of believers.