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Facing Unity - Excursus



Hervé Legrand, O.P.

  1. In considering the practice of ordination in the period of the early church fathers, all we are concerned to do in the present context is to point out the common ecclesiological structures on which that practice and its different forms are based. What is to be identified, therefore, is a theological model. Since the historical and social conditions of our churches today are wholly different from those of that remote era, there is no call to repristinate the past. Surely, however, considering it can stimulate creative reflection.

  2. The ordination of a bishop is a complex process of which we shall emphasize here only those aspects which are most significant for the fellowship of the church.1

  3. — With the participation of the bishops of neighbouring churches,2 the ordinand is chosen by the whole Christian people and the clergy of the church in question.3 This responsibility of the congregation in the choice of its bishop has a pneumatological basis: the person chosen by the local church is held to have been chosen by the Holy Spirit.4 This active cooperation of people and bishops in the election and ordination shows that it is perfectly possible to combine the "congregational" and "episcopal" principles in the fellowship of the church.5

  4. — At the inauguration of the new bishop into the apostolic ministry, an attestation of his orthodoxy in faith is required both by the local Christians and the neighbouring bishops.6 The apostolicity of the local church and of the whole church as well as the apostolicity of the ministry are integral elements in the fellowship of the church.

  5. — Even if already elected, the ordinand does not become bishop without the cooperation of the leaders of the neighbor churches.7 This shows that church fellowship requires catholicity.

  6. — His reception by the other bishops as a colleague into one and the same office shows that the collegiality of the bishops is an expression of the fellowship between the churches.

  7. — In the setting of the epiklesis of the whole assembly and with the imposition of hands by the bishops, he receives the gift of the Spirit.8 The ordination takes place, therefore, within the koinônia in which the bishops and the congregation are united by the Holy Spirit.

  8. — This gift is the particular charisma of presiding over his church (pneuma hegemonikon).9 Ordination thus sets the bishop vis-à-vis his church. Even so he exercises this personal office in cooperation with a variety of gifts, charismata and ministries, all of which are given to the church by the Spirit.

  9. — The charisma he receives enables him to assume his ministry and perform it with authority. The canonical aspect is inseparable from the pneumatological aspect: canon law is an integral element of the fellowship of the church.

  10. — The local church celebrates the ordination of its bishop in the context of a eucharistic assembly over which the newly ordained bishop presides. This points to the close connection between church fellowship and eucharistic communion and to the responsibility for both inherent in the office.

  11. — The ordination of the bishop is always celebrated on the Sunday, the day on which the resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost are commemorated, thereby bringing the eschatological dimension of the ministry and Christian communion to expression in ordination.10 In his ministry, therefore, the bishop is to represent the inner connection between Christ's apostolically attested act of salvation, the actualizing of the apostolic witness to Christ, and the expected return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    (Information Service 59 (1985/III-IV) 72-73 and Facing Unity. Models, Forms and Phases of Catholic-Lutheran Church Fellowship Geneva: Lutheran World Federation, 1985, pp. 68-71. ISBN 2-88190-000-3)



    1. Paralleling the appeal of The Eucharist to the basic actions of the eucharistic celebration, here too an attempt is made to emphasize the basic features of the act of ordination to the degree that these reflect the interrelationships between the understanding of ministry and the conception of the church.

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    2. Nicaea, can. 4 (COD 6-7).

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    3. The rule given in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (No. 2) is: "Let the bishop be ordained after he has been chosen by all the people" (The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, Archon Books, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1962, p. 33). Hippolytus' Apostolic Tradition is an important witness not only in virtue of its antiquity (about 220 AD) but also because of its later reception in the ecumenical movement. In the ordination of bishops in the East this ritual was adopted from a very early date (Western Syria, Egypt and later at our time Ethiopia); in the Latin Church it forms the basis for the new rite of episcopal ordination after the Second Vatican Council; various Protestant churches, in particular the Episcopal Church in the Usa and the United Methodíst Church in the USA, have made it the pattern for their episcopal ordination services.
      Following the reign of the emperor Constantine, the church in the East experienced a diminution of the active participation of the local church in electing its bishop; thus canon 4 of the Council of Nicaea refers only to the cooperation of the neighbouring bishops in the act of consecration. In the West, the local church preserved an active initiating role (this was later interrupted because of the migration of peoples), as is attested by the well-known election of Ambrose of Milan (Paulin, Vit. Ambr. 6, PL 14, 31) and that of Martin of Tours (Sulp. Severus, Vit. Martini 9, Sources chrétiennes 133, pp. 270-273). This active initiatory role of the local church was still defended in the fifth century by the bishops of Rome. For example, Celestine: "Nullus invitis detur episcopus. Cleri, plebis et ordinis, consensum ac desiderium requiratur" [No bishop should be appoínted against the wishes of the faithful. Agreement and wish of the clergy, the people and the ordained ministry should be obtained]. (Epist. 4, 5; PL 50, 434); similarly St. Leo the Great: "He who is to be in charge of all should be chosen by all" (Letters, Washington DC, 1957, p. 44; Epist. 10, 6; PL 54, 634); and again: "No one, of course, is to be consecrated against the wishes of the people and without their requesting it" (ibid., p. 63; Epist. 14, 5; PL 54, 673). In all cases it is not a question, of course, of the individual votes of the faithful in the sense of a modern political election; but to reduce the role of the local church to a mete consent by acclamation would not correspond to the facts.

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    4. The term "vox populi, vox Dei" seems to have originated in the election to the ordained ministry. According to Cyprian, God with whom the real decision lies speaks through the voice of the people (Epist. 43, 1; 55, 8; 59, 5; 68, 2). Cf. on this: T. Osawa, "Das Bischofseinsetzungsverfahren bei Cyprian. Historische Untersuchungen zu den Begriffen iudicium, suffragium, testimonium, consensus", Europäische Hochschulschriften XXIII, 178, Frankfurt/Bern 1983. In the view of the author — following Cyprian — the people, as distinct from the clergy, had no right to cooperate actively and to take the initiative in the election.

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    5. Cyprian could therefore write: "The bishop is in the Church and the Church is in the bishop" (Letters 1-81, Washington DC, 1964, p. 229; Epist. 66, 8). The appointment of a bishop is subject to the condition that he is accepted by the local church. Canon 18 of the Council of Ancyra (AD 314) stipulates that a bishop is to be content with the rank of a presbyter if he is not accepted. If he is not prepared to do so, he is deposed. Canon 2147, para 2, 2 of the CIC of 1917 regard acceptance as necessary for the ministers (cf. also can. 1741, 3 of the CIC of 1983).

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    6. The chief witnesses for a scrutiny of the bishop in the presence of the people are: Apostolic Tradition, 2; Const. Apost. VIII, 4, 2, 6; Cyprian, Epist. 38, 1; Letter of the Nicene Council to the Egyptians 7-10, Urkunden zur Geschichte des Arianischen Streites, Berlin/Leipzig, 1935 — Works of Athanasius III, 49-50; Statuta Ecclesiae Antiqua, cf. Munier, ed. Paris, 1960, 75-76.

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    7. According to canon 4 of the Council of Nicaea, among the neighbouring bishops it is the responsibility of the Metropolitan to confirm such a procedure in his province. In this spirit, the Popes, as Metropolitans of the Roman province and as Primates of Italy, reserved to themselves the consecration of bishops from the beginning of the seventh century onwards. They were thus able to control the quality of the elections as carried out by the local churches. Only from the time when the Popes resided in Avignon (14th/15th centuries) did they try to appoint all the Latin bishops. The CIC of 1917 was the first to turn this into a universal principle (cf. can. 329, para. 2: "The Supreme Pontiff freely appoints them" [the bishops], a formula, which was taken up again with an enlarged addition in CIC of 1983, can. 377, para. 1: "or confirms those lawfully elected" [The Code of Canon Law, in English translation, London/Sydney, 1983, p. 66; cf. can. 329, para. 2]).

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    8. Hippolytus, op. cit., p. 33: "All indeed shall keep silent, praying in their heart for the descent of the Spirit".

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    9. Ibid., No. 3, pp. 34f.

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    10. Cf. Th. Michels, Beiträge zur Geschichte des Bischofsweihetages im christlichen Altertum und im Mittelalter, LQF 22, Münster, 1927.

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