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ANF07. Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily
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Sec. V.—All the Apostles Urge the Observance of the Order of the Church.

That Every One Ought to Remain in that Rank Wherein He is Placed, But Not Snatch Such Offices to Himself Which are Not Entrusted to Him.

XLVI. Now this we all in common do charge you, that every one remain in that rank which is appointed him, and do not transgress his proper bounds; for they are not ours, but God’s. For says the Lord: “He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that heareth me, heareth Him that sent me.” And, “He that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth Him that sent me.”37533753     Luke x. 16; Matt. x. 40; John xiii. 20.   For if those things that are without life do observe good order, as the night, the day, the sun, the moon, the stars, the elements, the seasons, the months, the weeks, the days, and the hours, and are subservient to the uses appointed them, according to that which is said, “Thou hast set them a bound which they shall not pass;”37543754     Ps. civ. 9.   and again, concerning the sea, “I have set bounds thereto, and have encompassed it with bars and gates; and I said to it, Hitherto shalt thou come, and thou shalt go no farther;”37553755     Job xxxviii. 10, 11.   how much more ought ye not to venture to remove those things which we, according to God’s will, have determined for you! But because many think this a small matter, and venture to confound the orders, and to remove the ordination which belongs to them severally, snatching to themselves dignities which were never given them, and allowing themselves to bestow that authority in a tyrannical manner which they have not themselves, and thereby provoke God to anger (as did the followers of Corah and King Uzziah,37563756     Num. xvi.; 2 Chron. xxvi.   who, having no authority, usurped the high-priesthood without commission from God; and the former were burnt with fire, and the latter was struck with a leprosy in his forehead); and provoke Christ Jesus to anger, who has made this constitution; and also grieve the Holy Spirit, and make void His testimony: therefore, foreknowing the danger that hangs over those who do such things, and the neglect about the sacrifices and eucharistical offices which will arise from their being impiously offered by those who ought not to offer them; who think the honour of the high-priesthood, which is an imitation of the great High Priest Jesus Christ our King, to be a matter of sport; we have found it necessary to give you warning in this matter also. For some are already turned aside after their own vanity. We say that Moses the servant of God (“to whom God spake face to face, as if a man spake to his friend;”37573757     Num. xii. 7, 8; Ex. xxxiii. 11, 17   to whom He said, “I know thee above all men;” to whom He spake directly, and not by obscure methods, or dreams, or angels, or riddles),—this person, when he made constitutions and divine laws, distinguished what things were to be performed by the high priests, what by the priests, and what by the Levites; distributing to every one his proper and suitable office in the divine service. And those things which are allotted for the high priests to do, those might not be meddled with by the priests; and what things were allotted to the priests, the Levites might not meddle with; but every one observed those ministrations which were written down and appointed for them. And if any would meddle beyond the tradition, death was his punishment. And Saul’s example does show this most plainly, who, thinking he might offer sacrifice without the prophet and high priest Samuel,37583758     1 Sam. xiii   drew upon himself a sin and a curse without remedy. Nor did even his having anointed him king discourage the prophet. But God showed the same by a more visible effect in the case of Uzziah,37593759     2 Chron. xxvi.   when He without delay exacted the punishment due to this transgression, and he that madly coveted after the high-priesthood was rejected from his kingdom also. As to those things that have happened amongst us, you yourselves are not ignorant of them. For ye know undoubtedly that those that are by us named bishops, and presbyters, and deacons, were made by prayer, and by the laying on of hands; and that by the difference of their names is showed the difference of their employments. For not every one that will is ordained, as the case was in that spurious and counterfeit priesthood of the calves under Jeroboam;37603760     1 Kings xiii. 33.   but he only who is called of God. For if there were no rule or distinction of orders, it would suffice to perform all the offices under one name. But being taught by the Lord the series of things, we distributed the functions of the high-priesthood to the bishops, those of the priesthood to the presbyters, and the ministration under them both to the deacons; that the divine worship might be performed in purity. For it is not lawful for a deacon to offer the sacrifice, or to baptize, or to give either the greater or the lesser blessing. Nor may a presbyter perform ordination; for it is not agreeable to holiness to have this order perverted. For “God is not the God of confusion,”37613761     1 Cor. xiv. 33. [See p. 500, note 6, infra.]   that the subordinate persons should tyrannically assume to themselves the functions belonging to their superiors, forming a new scheme of laws to their own mischief, not knowing that “it is hard for them to kick against the pricks;”37623762     Acts ix. 5. [See Acts xxvi. 14, where the clause is genuine. In ix. 5 it is a later interpolation of the Vulgate and Erasmus.—R.]   for such as these do not fight against us, or against the bishops, but against the universal Bishop and the High Priest of the Father, Jesus Christ our Lord.37633763     The Coptic adds, “the Son of God, and true God.”   High priests, priests, and Levites were ordained by Moses,37643764     Ex. xxviii. and xxix.   the most beloved of God. By our Saviour37653765     The Coptic adds “God.”   were we apostles, thirteen in number, ordained; and by the apostles I James, and I Clement, and others with us, were ordained, that we may not make the catalogue of all those bishops over again. And in common, presbyters, and deacons, and sub-deacons, and readers, were ordained by all of us. The great High Priest therefore, who is so by nature, is Christ the only begotten; not having snatched that honour to Himself, but having been appointed such by the Father; who being made man for our sake, and offering the spiritual sacrifice to His God and Father, before His suffering gave it us alone in charge to do this, although there were others with us who had believed in Him. But he that believes is not presently appointed a priest, or obtains the dignity of the high-priesthood. But after His ascension we offered, according to His constitution, the pure and unbloody sacrifice; and ordained bishops, and presbyters, and deacons, seven in number: one of which was Stephen,37663766     Acts vi. and vii.   that blessed martyr, who was not inferior to us as to his pious disposition of mind towards God; who showed so great piety towards God, by his faith and love towards our Lord Jesus Christ, as to give his life for Him, and was stoned to death by the Jews, the murderers of the Lord. Yet still this so great and good a man, who was fervent in spirit, who saw Christ on the right hand of God, and the gates of heaven opened, does nowhere appear to have exercised functions which did not appertain to his office of a deacon, nor to have offered the sacrifices, nor to have laid hands upon any, but kept his order of a deacon unto the end. For so it became him, who was a martyr for Christ, to preserve good order. But if some do blame Philip37673767     One V. ms. has the following note: “That he who baptized the Ethiopian eunuch was not the Apostle Philip, but one of those who were chosen along with St. Stephen to be deacons, and who also had four daughters, as says Luke in the Acts.” [See pp. 452, 492, supra.]   our deacon, and Ananias37683768     Acts viii. and ix.   our faithful brother, that the one did baptize the eunuch, and the other me Paul, these men do not understand what we say. For we have affirmed only that no one snatches the sacerdotal dignity to himself, but either receives it from God, as Melchisedec and Job, or from the high priest, as Aaron from Moses. Wherefore Philip and Ananias did not constitute themselves, but were appointed by Christ, the High Priest of that God to whom no being is to be compared.  


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