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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 94. Ordination.


J. Morinus (R.C.): Comment. Hist. so dogm. de sacris Eccles. ordinationibus. Par. 1655, etc. Fr. Halierius (R.C.): De sacris electionibus et ordinationibus. Rom. 1749. 3 vols. fol. G. L. Hahn: l.c. p. 96 and p. 354 ff. Comp. the relevant sections in the archaeological works of Bingham, Augusti, Binterim, etc.


The ordination of clergymen992992   Χειροτονία, καθιέρσις, ordinatioand in the case of bishops, consecratio. was as early as the fourth or fifth century admitted into the number of sacraments. Augustine first calls it a sacrament, but with the remark that in his time the church unanimously acknowledged the sacramental character of this usage.993993   De bono conjug. c. 18 (tom. vi. p. 242), c. 24 (p. 247); Contr. Epist. Parmen. l. ii. c. 12 (tom. ix. pp. 29, 30). Comp. Leo M. Epist. xii. c. 9; Gregor. M. Expos. in i. Regg. l. vi. c. 3. These and other passages in Hahn, p. 97.

Ordination is the solemn consecration to the special priesthood, as baptism is the introduction to the universal priesthood; and it is the medium of communicating the gifts for the ministerial office. It confers the capacity and authority of administering the sacraments and governing the body of believers, and secures to the church order, care, and steady growth to the end of time. A ruling power is as necessary in the church as in the state. In the Jewish church there was a hereditary priestly caste; in the Christian this is exchanged for an unbroken succession of voluntary priests from all classes, but mostly from the middle and lower classes of the people.

Like baptism and confirmation, ordination imparts, according to the later scholastic doctrine, a character indelebilis, and cannot therefore be repeated.994994   Already intimated by Augustine, De bapt. c. Donat. ii. 2: “Sicut baptizatus, si ab unitate recesserit, sacramentum dandi non amittit, sic etiam ordinatus, Si ab unitate recesserit, sacramentum dandi baptismum [i.e., ordination] non amittit.” But this of course does not exclude the possibility of suspension and excommunication in case of gross immorality or gross error. The council of Nice, in 325, acknowledged even the validity of the ordination of the schismatic Novatians.

Corresponding to the three ordines majores there were three ordinations: to the diaconate, to the presbyterate, and to the episcopate.995995   On the character of the ordination of the sub-deacons, as well as of diaconissae and presbyters, there were afterward diverse views. Usually this was considered ordination only in an improper sense. Many of the most eminent bishops, however, like Cyprian and Ambrose, received the three rites in quick succession, and officiated only as bishops.

Different from ordination is installation, or induction into a particular congregation or diocese, which may be repeated as often as the minister is transferred.

Ordination was performed by laying on of hands and prayer, closing with the communion. To these were gradually added other preparatory and attendant practices; such as the tonsure996996    After the fifth century, but under various forms, tonsura Petri, etc. It was first applied to penitents, then to monks, and finally to the clergy. the anointing with the chrism (only in the Latin church after Gregory the Great), investing with the insignia of the office (the holy books, and in the case of bishops the ring and staff), the kiss of brotherhood, etc. Only bishops can ordain, though presbyters assist. The ordination or consecraion of a bishop generally requires, for greater solemnity, the presence of three bishops.

No one can receive priestly orders without a fixed field of labor which yields him support.997997   Hence the old rules: “Ne quis vage ordinetur,” and, “Nemo ordinatur sine titulo.” Comp. Acts xiv. 23; Tit. i. 5; 1 Pet. v. 1. In the course of time further restrictions, derived in part from the Old Testament, in regard to age, education, physical and moral constitution, freedom from the bonds of marriage, etc., were established by ecclesiastical legislation.

The favorite times for ordination were Pentecost and the quarterly Quatember terms998998   Quatuor tempora. Comp. the old verse: “Post crux (Holyrood day, 14th September), post cineres (Ash Wednesday), post spiritus (Pentecost) atque Luciae (13th December), Sit tibi in auguria quarta sequens feria.” (i.e., the beginning of Quadragesima, the weeks after Pentecost, after the fourteenth of September, and after the thirteenth of December), which were observed, after Gelasius or Leo the Great, as ordinary penitential seasons of the church. The candidates were obliged to prepare themselves for consecration by prayer and fasting.



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