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Re: Part Three of the Course, Fifth Assignment, Question 1
by Eileen Rettig - Monday, 6 August 2012, 6:49 PM

The history of the sacrament of Holy Orders is both as simple and as complicated as the history of Christianity. As the Apostles moved out of the confines of Palestine they spread their new faith to various areas both inside and outside the Roman Empire. They frequently preached in a town or city, helped establish a new Christian community and then appointed respected members of that community to oversee the needs of the community while the apostle moved on to another area. But we have no written records from the apostolic era that any type of ritual was involved in the recognition of the presyteros as a special class of people.

Based largely on the Epistle to the Hebrews where the author speaks of Christ as the High Priest of the New Covenant the patristic fathers clearly believed that special ministries within the church were special persons and needed a ritual to signify their connection to the Christ’s priesthood. They adopted the Old Testament ritual of laying on of hands, much as the Jews had used before the destruction of the Temple. The patristic fathers, men like Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons and others laid the foundation for the development of the sacramental priesthood. These bishops writing in the second and third centuries delineated the responsibilities of the bishop (episkopos).

Just as with Baptism, once the persecutions ended the question came up about the validity of sacraments celebrated by bishops and priests who were known to or suspected of having committed a serious sin, such as denying the faith. The theological implications of this question could affect the entire sacramental system. If the state of soul of the celebrant was a determining factor in the validity of any sacrament how could anyone be assured that the sacrament they were receiving was valid. Augustine answered this issue by postulating that the effects of the sacrament were from God, not from the minister of the sacrament. Therefore, the sacrament would be valid even if the clergyman administering the sacrament was a heretic, or a known sinner. This is important because it ensures the legal validity of the sacramental system

Aquinas and the other scholastics added to this theological theory by defining the permanent change Holy Orders left on a man’s soul, similar to the change Baptism confers on a Christian’s soul. While Baptism conformed the new Christian to Christ, Holy Orders conformed the man to Christ the High Priest. This led to the understanding “once a priest, always a priest.”

Scandals and abuses at all levels of the clergy during the end of the Middle Ages led the Protestant Reformation with an emphasis on the service aspect of ministry. The reformers denied that ordination was a sacrament since they could find no scriptural evidence in the New Testament. The Council of Trent acknowledged the abuses in the clergy and set about the rectify many of the practical problems. They also reaffirmed the Augustinian and Scholastic theology of the sacrament. For the next four hundred years no changes occurred in the theology of the priesthood. The Roman Catholic Church maintained a hierarchical system that had been born in the feudal period of the middle ages.

GRADE 3 (Accurate but not evaluative.)

(Edited by Dr. Joe - original submission Thursday, 2 August 2012, 10:28 PM)