THE SACRAMENT OF ORDER
IN THE SACRAMENTAL STRUCTURE OF THE CHURCH
WITH PARTICULAR REFERENCE
TO THE IMPORTANCE OF APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION
FOR THE SANCTIFICATION AND UNITY OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD
The Joint International Commission for Theological
Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church
approved in its fifth plenary session at the monastery of New Valamo,
Finland, June 19-27, 1988, a new common statement entitled, "The
Sacrament of Order in the Sacramental Structure of the Church, with
particular Reference to the Importance of the Apostolic Succession
for the Sanctification and Unity of the People of God."
This theme was chosen by the joint commission
during its third session in Crete in 1984. Immediately afterwards,
in 1984 and 1985, the theme was studied simultaneously by three
sub-commissions. In June 1985 in Opole, Poland, the joint coordinating
committee, on the basis of the studies produced by the sub-commissions,
elaborated an organic synthesis.
The proposed document was given a preliminary
examination by the joint commission in the first phase of the fourth
plenary session in Bari in June 1986 and a number of amendments
were proposed. Therefore the draft was revised by a joint editorial)
committee which met in Rome September 22-26, 1986
Consequently the draft of the document reached the fifth plenary
session of the commission in Finland already in a highly developed
form. Nevertheless, the joint commission reexamined it paragraph
by paragraph before approving it unanimously.
This is the third document produced by the joint
commission, in which the fourteen autocephalous and autonomous Orthodox
Churches are taking part, and which was created on the occasion
of the visit of His Holiness John Paul II to the Ecumenical) Patriarchate
on November 30, 1979.
With strict theological coherence, the document
on the sacrament of Order and Apostolic succession is linked to
the first two already published, the first entitled "The Mystery
of the Church and of the Holy Eucharist in the Light of the Mystery
o f the Holy Trinity" (Munich, 1982), and the second entitled
"Faith, Sacraments and the Unity of the Church" (Bari,
The Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue
between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church chose as the
theme of the first phase of the dialogue a study of the sacraments
in their relation to the unity of the Church, proposing and desiring
the use of a positive method, intending, that is, to begin with
those common elements which unite Catholics and Orthodox.
The document which is now being published is,
along with the two earlier ones, a valuable result of the work of
this international joint commission. As such, for the time being
it engages the responsibility only of the members of the commission.
The competent authorities of the Catholic Church,
for their part, while permitting publication of the document as
an encouragement to the conversations underway, reserve to themselves
the right to express in the future their official position on the
results already obtained, on the possible need to subsequently clarify
some aspects, and on the need to address other points in the dialogue.
The authorities of the various Orthodox Churches engaged in this
dialogue will do the same.
1. Having expressed our idea of the mystery
of the Church as a communion of faith and sacraments, pre-eminently
manifested in the eucharistic celebration, our commission now
addresses the crucial question of the place and role of ordained
ministry in the sacraments structure of the Church. We will deal,
then, with the sacrament of order as well as with ordination to
each of the three degrees of episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate.
We rely on the certitude that in our Churches apostolic succession
is fundamental for the sanctification and the unity of the people
2. Our Churches affirm that ministry in the
Church makes actual that of Christ himself. In the New Testament
writings, Christ is called apostle, prophet, pastor, servant,
deacon, doctor, priest, episkopos. Our common tradition recognizes
the close link between the work of Christ and that of the Holy
3. This understanding prevents us seeing in
the economy Christ in isolation from the Spirit. The actual presence
of Christ in his Church is also of an eschatological nature, since
the Spirit constitutes the earnest of the perfect realization
of God's design for the world.
4. In this perspective the Church appears
as the community of the New Covenant which Christ through the
Holy Spirit gathers about himself and builds up as his Body. Through
the Church, Christ is present in history; through it he achieves
the salvation of the world.
5. Since Christ is present in the Church,
it is his ministry that is carried out in it. The ministry in
the Church therefore does not substitute for the ministry of Christ.
It has its source in him. Since the Spirit sent by Christ gives
life to the Church, ministry is only fruitful by the grace of
the Spirit. In fact, it includes many functions which the members
of the community carry out according to the diversity of the gifts
they receive as members of the Body of Christ. Certain among them
receive through ordination and exercise the function proper to
the episcopate, to the presbyterate and to the diaconate. There
is no Church without the ministries created by the Spirit; there
is no ministry without the Church, that is to say, outside and
above the community. Ministries find their meaning and grounds
for existence (raison d'être) only in it.
CHRIST AND THE HOLY SPIRIT
6. The Spirit, which eternally proceeds from
the Father and reposes on the Son, prepared the Christ event and
achieved it. The incarnation of the Son of God, his death and
his resurrection, were accomplished in fact according to the will
of the Father, in the Holy Spirit. At the baptism, the Father
through the manifestation of the Spirit inaugurates the mission
of the Son. This Spirit is present in his ministry: the announcing
of the Good News of salvation, the manifesting of the coming of
the Kingdom, the bearing witness to the Father. Likewise, it is
in the same Spirit that, as the unique priest of the New Covenant,
Christ offers the sacrifice of his own life and it is through
the Spirit that he is glorified.
7. Since Pentecost, in the Church which is
his Body, it is in the Spirit alone that those who are charged
with ministry can carry out the acts which bring the Body to its
full stature. In the ministry of Christ as in that of the Church,
it is the one and the same Spirit which is at work and which will
act with us all the days of our life.
8. In the Church ministry should be lived
in holiness, with a view towards the sanctification of the people
of God. So that the whole Church and especially its ordained ministers
might be able to contribute to "the perfecting of the saints
for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ,"
different services are made possible by many charisms (Eph 4:11-12;
cf. 1 Cor 12:4-28; Rom 12:4-8).
9. The newness of the Church's ministry consists
in this: Christ, servant of God for humanity, is present through
the Spirit, in the Church, his Body, from which he cannot be separated.
For he himself is "the first-born amongst many brothers."
It is according to this sacramental way that one must understand
the work of Christ in history from Pentecost to the Parousia.
The ministry of the Church as such is sacramental.
10. For this reason Christ's presence in the
Church is also eschatological. Wherever the Spirit is at work,
he actually reveals to the world the presence of the Kingdom in
creation. Here is where ecclesial ministry is rooted.
11. This ecclesial ministry is by nature sacramental.
The word sacramental is meant to emphasise here that every ministry
is bound to the eschatological reality of the Kingdom. The grace
of the Holy Spirit, earnest of the world to come, has its source
in the death and resurrection of Christ and is offered, in a sacramental
manner, by means of sensible realities. The word sacramental likewise
shows that the minister is a member of the community whom the
Spirit invests with proper functions and power to assemble it
and to preside in the name of Christ over the acts in which it
celebrates the mysteries of salvation. This view of the sacramentality
of ministry is rooted in the fact that Christ is made present
in the Church by the Spirit whom he himself has sent to the Church.
12. This nature of ecclesial ministry is further
shown in the fact that all ministries are intended to serve the
world so as to lead it to its true goal, the Kingdom of God. It
is by constituting the eschatological community as Body of Christ
that the ministry of the Church answers the needs of the world.
13. The community gathered in the Spirit around
Christ exercising his ministry for the world has its foundation
in Christ, who is himself the cornerstone, and in the community
of the Twelve. The apostolic character of Churches and their ministry
is understood in this light.
14. On the one hand, the Twelve are witness
of the historic life of Jesus, of his ministry and of his resurrection.
On the other, as associated with the glorified Christ, they link
each community with the community of the last days. Thus the ecclesial
ministry will be called apostolic because it is carried out in
continuity and in fidelity to what was given by Christ and handed
on in history by the apostles. But it will also be apostolic because
the eucharistic assembly at which the minister presides is an
anticipation of the final community with Christ. Through this
double relationship the Church's ministry remains constantly bound
to that of the Twelve, and so to that of Christ.
THE PRIESTHOOD IN THE DIVINE ECONOMY OF SALVATION
15. The entire divine economy of salvation
culminates in the incarnation of the Son, in his teaching, his
passion, his glorious resurrection, his ascension and his second
coming. Christ acts in the Holy Spirit. Thus, once and for all,
there is laid the foundation for re-establishing the communion
of man with God.
16. According to the epistle to the Hebrews,
Christ by his death has become the one mediator of the New Covenant
(Heb 9:15) and having entered once for all into the Holy Place
with his own blood (Heb 9:12), he is forever in heaven the one
and eternal High Priest of this New Covenant, "so as to appear
now in the presence of God on our behalf" (Heb 9:24) to offer
his sacrifice (Heb 10:12).
17. Invisibly present in the Church through
the Holy Spirit, whom he has sent, Christ then is its unique High
Priest. In him, priest and victim, all together, pastors and faithful,
form a "chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a
people he claims as his own" (1 Pt 2:9; cf. Rv 5:10).
18. All members of the Churches, as members
of the Body of Christ, participate in this priesthood, called
to become "a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God"
(Rom 12:1; cf. 1 Pt 2:5). Head of the Church, Christ has established,
to make himself present, apostles chosen among the people, whom
he endowed with authority and power by strengthening them through
the grace of the Holy Spirit. The work and mission of the apostles
are continued in the Church by the bishops with the priests and
deacons who assist them. By ordination, the bishops are established
successors of the apostles and direct the people along the ways
19. Grouped around the glorified Lord, the
Twelve give witness to the presence of the Kingdom already inaugurated
and which will be fully manifested at the second coming. Christ
has indeed promised them that they would sit on twelve thrones,
judging with the Son of Man the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt 19:28).
20. As historic witnesses of what the Lord
accomplished, the ministry of the Twelve is unique and irreplaceable.
What they laid down was founded therefore once for all and no
one in the future could build except on the foundation thus established
(Eph 2:20; Rv 21:14).
21. But the apostles remain at the same time
the foundations of the Church as it endures through the ages,
in such a way that the mission they received from the Lord always
remains visible and active, in expectation of the Lord's return
(cf. Mt 18:18 and, earlier, 16:19).
22. This is why the Church, in which God's
grace is at work, is itself the sacrament par excellence, the
anticipated manifestation of the final realities, the foretaste
of God's Kingdom, of the glory of the God and Father, of the eschaton
23. Within this sacrament which is the Church,
the priesthood conferred by ordination finds its place, being
given for this Church. In fact, it constitutes in the Church a
charismatic ministry (leitourgêma) par excellence. It is
at the service of the Church's life and continued existence by
the Holy Spirit, that is to say, of the unity in Christ, of all
the faithful living and dead, of the martyrs, the saints, the
just of the Old Testament.
THE MINISTRY OF THE BISHOP, PRESBYTER AND DEACON
24. In the celebration of the eucharist, the
entire assembly, each according to his or her status, is "litourgos"
of the koinonia, and is so only through the Spirit. "...
there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord (...). To
each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."
(1 Cor 12:5, 7). The various ministries converge in the eucharistic
synaxis, during which they are conferred. However, their diversity
is ordered to the entire life of the community: fidelity to the
Word of God, abiding in harmony and fraternal charity, witness
before "those outside," growth in holiness, constancy
in prayer, care for the poorest.
25. Since it culminates in the celebration
of the eucharist in which Christian initiation is completed, through
which all become one Body of Christ, the ministry of the bishop
is, among all the charisms and ministries which the Spirit raises
up, a ministry of presiding for gathering in unity. In fact, bearing
the variety of gifts of the Spirit, the local Church has at its
center the bishop, whose communion realizes the unity of all and
expresses the fullness of the Church.
26. This unity of the local Church is inseparable
from the universal communion of the Churches. It is essential
for a Church to be in communion with the others. This communion
is expressed and realized in and through the episcopal college.
By his ordination, the bishop is made minister of a Church which
he represents in the universal communion.
27. Episcopal ordination, which, according
to the canons, is conferred by at least two or three bishops,
expresses the communion of the Churches with that of the person
selected: it makes him a member of the communion of bishops. In
the ordination the bishops exercise their function as witnesses
to the communion in the apostolic faith and sacramental life not
only with respect to him whom they ordain, but also with respect
to the Church of which he will be bishop. What is fundamental
for the incorporation of the newly elected person in the episcopal
communion is that it is accomplished by the glorified Lord in
the power of the Holy Spirit at the moment of the imposition of
Here we are only considering ordination under its sacramental
aspect. The problems raised by the manner of electing a bishop
will be studied later.
28. Episcopal ordination confers on the one
who receives it by the gift of the Spirit, the fullness of the
priesthood. During the ordination the concelebration of the bishops
expresses the unity of the Church and its identity with the apostolic
community. They lay hands and invoke the Holy Spirit on the one
who will be ordained as the only ones qualified to confer on him
the episcopal ministry. They do it, however, within the setting
of the prayer of the community.
29. Through his ordination, the bishop receives
all the powers necessary for fulfilling his function. The canonical
conditions for the exercise of his function and the installation
of the bishop in the local Church will be further discussed by
30. The gift conferred consecrates the recipient
once for all to the service of the Church. This is a point of
the traditional doctrine in East and West, which is confirmed
by the fact that in the event of disciplinary sanctions against
a bishop followed by canonical reintegration, there is no re-ordination.
On this subject, as on all the essential points concerning ordination,
our Churches have a common doctrine and practice, even if on certain
canonical and disciplinary requirements, such as celibacy, customs
can be different because of pastoral and spiritual reasons.
31. But ecclesial ministry is exercised through
a variety of functions. These are exercised in interdependence;
none could replace another. This is especially true of the fundamental
ministries of the bishop, the presbyter and the deacon, and of
the functions of the laity, all of which together give structure
to the eucharistic community.
32. Throughout the entire history of our Churches,
women have played a fundamental role, as witnessed not only by
the most Holy Mother of God, but also by the holy women mentioned
in the New Testament, by the numerous women saints whom we venerate,
as well as by so many other women who up to the present day have
served the Church in many ways. Their particular charisms are
very important for the building up of the Body of Christ. But
our Churches remain faithful to the historical and theological
tradition according to which they ordain only men to the priestly
33. Just as the apostles gathered together
the first communities, by proclaiming Christ, by celebration the
eucharist, by leading the baptised towards growing communion with
Christ and with each other, so the bishop, established by the
same Spirit, continues to preach the same Gospel, to preside at
the same eucharist, to serve the unity and sanctification of the
same community. He is thus the icon of Christ the servant among
34. Because it is at the eucharist that the
Church manifests its fullness, it is equally in the presiding
at the eucharist that the role of the bishop and of the priest
appears in its full light.
35. In the eucharistic celebration, in fact,
believers offer themselves with Christ as a royal priesthood.
They do so thanks to the ministerial action which makes present
in their midst Christ himself who proclaims the Word, makes the
bread and the cup become through the Spirit his Body and Blood,
incorporating them in himself, giving them his life. Moreover,
the prayer and the offering of the people incorporated in Christ
are, so to speak, recapitulated in the thanksgiving prayer of
the bishop and his offering of the gifts.
36. The eucharist thus realizes the unity
of the Christian community. It also manifests the unity of all
the Churches which truly celebrate it and further still the unity,
across the centuries, of all the Churches with the apostolic community
from the beginnings up to the present day. Transcending history,
it reunites in the Spirit the great assembly of the apostles,
of martyrs, of witnesses of all periods gathered around the Lamb.
Indeed, as the central act of episcopal ministry it makes clearly
present the world to come: the Church gathered in communion, offering
itself to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.
37. He who presides at the eucharist is responsible
for preserving communion in fidelity to the teaching of the apostles
and for guiding it in the new life. He is its servant and pastor.
The bishop is also the guide of the entire liturgical life of
his local Church and, following his example, this Church becomes
a community of prayer. He presides at its praise and at its intercession,
and he himself prays unceasingly for all those entrusted to him
by the Lord, knowing that he is responsible for each one before
the tribunal of God.
38. It also rests with him to see to it that
there be given to his people, by preaching and catechesis, the
authentic content of the Word of God given to the apostles "once
for all." He is in fact the primary one responsible for the
preaching of the Word of God in his diocese.
39. To him also belongs the task of leading
this people towards proclaiming to all human beings salvation
in Jesus Christ, and towards a witness which embodies that proclamation.
Therefore, it is for him to govern his Church in such a way that
it always remains faithful to its Christian vocation and to the
mission deriving therefrom. In all this, however, he remains a
member of the Church called to holiness and dependent on the salvific
ministry of this Church, as St Augustine reminds his community:
"For you I am a bishop, with you I am a Christian."
At his ordination the bishop makes his own the faith of the whole
Church by solemnly confessing it and thus becomes father to the
extent that he has fully become its son by this confession. It
is essential for the bishop to be the father of his people.
40. As successor of the apostles, bishops
are responsible for communion in the apostolic faith and fidelity
to the demands of a life lived according to the Gospel.
41. It is in presiding over the eucharistic
assembly that the role of the bishop finds its accomplishment.
The presbyters form the college grouped around him during that
celebration. They exercise the responsibilities the bishop entrusts
to them by celebrating the sacraments, teaching the Word of God
and governing the community, in profound and continuous communion
with him. The deacon, for his part, is attached to the service
of the bishop and the priest and is a link between them and the
assembly of the faithful.
42. The priest, ordained by the bishop and
dependent upon him, is sent to fulfil certain definite tasks;
above all he is sent to a parish community to be its pastor: he
presides at the eucharist at the altar (consecrated by the bishop),
he is minister of the sacraments for the community, he preaches
the Gospel and catechizes; it is his duty to keep in unity the
charisms of the people (laos) of God; he appears as the ordinary
minister of the local eucharistic community, and the diocese is
thus a communion of eucharistic communities.
43. The diaconate is exercised at the service
of the bishop and the priest, in the liturgy, in the work of evangelization
and in the service of charity.
44. The same unique ministry of Christ and
his apostles remains in action in history. This action is, through
the Spirit, a breakthrough to "the world to come," in
fidelity to what the apostles transmitted about what Jesus did
45. The importance of this succession comes
also from the fact that the apostolic tradition concerns the community
and not only an isolated individual, ordained bishop. Apostolic
succession is transmitted through local Churches ("in each
city," according to the expression of Eusebius of Caesarea;
"by reason of their common heritage of doctrine," according
to Tertullian in the De Praescriptione, 32, 6). It is a matter
of a succession of persons in the community, because the Una Sancta
is a communion of local Churches and not of isolated individuals.
It is within this mystery of koinonia that the episcopate appears
as the central point of the apostolic succession.
46. According to what we have already said
in the Munich Document, "apostolic succession, therefore,
means something more than a mere transmission of powers. It is
succession in a Church which witnesses to the apostolic faith,
in communion with the other Churches, witnesses of the same apostolic
faith. The see' (cathedra) plays an important role in inserting
the bishop into the heart of ecclesial apostolicity" (Munich
Document, II, 4). More precisely, the term "cathedra"
is used here in the sense of the presence of the bishop in each
47. "On the other hand, once ordained,
the bishop becomes in his Church the guarantor of apostolicity,
the one who represents it within the communion of Churches, its
link with the other Churches. That is why in his Church every
eucharist can only be celebrated in truth if presided over by
him or by a presbyter in communion with him. Mention of him in
the anaphora is essential" (ibid).
48. "Attachment to the apostolic communion
joins together all the bishops, maintaining the episkope of the
local Churches, to the college of the apostles" (ibid., III;
4). The bishops are thus rooted in the once for all' of
the apostolic group through which the Holy Spirit gives witness
to the faith. Indeed, as the foundation of the Church, the Twelve
are unique. Even so, it was necessary that other men should make
visible their irreplaceable presence. In this way the link of
each community would be maintained with both the original community
and the eschatological community.
49. Through his ordination each bishop becomes
successor of the apostles, whatever may be the Church over which
he presides or the prerogatives
of this Church among the other Churches.
50. Incorporated into the number of those
to whom the particular responsibility for the ministry of salvation
has been entrusted, and so placed in the succession of the apostles,
the bishop ought to pass on their teaching as well as model his
whole life on them. Ireneaeus of Lyons puts it thus: "It
is where the charisms of God have been planted that we should
be instructed in the truth, that is among those in whom are united
succession in the Church from the apostles, unassailable integrity
of conduct and incorruptible purity of doctrine" (Adv. Haer.
IV, 26, 5). Among the essential functions of the bishop is that
of being in his Church through the Spirit a witness and guarantor
of the faith and an instrument for maintaining it in apostolic
fidelity. Apostolic succession is also a succession in the labors
and sufferings of the apostles for the service of the Gospel and
in the defence of the people entrusted to each bishop. According
to the words of the first letter of St. Peter, the apostolic succession
is also a succession in the presence of mercy and understanding,
of defence of the weak, of constant attention to those entrusted
to their charge, with the bishop thus being a model for the flock
(cf. 1 Pt 5:1-4; 2 Cor 4:8-11; 1 Tm 4:12; Tt 2:7).
51. Furthermore it belongs to the episcopal
ministry to articulate and organize the life of the Church with
its service and offices. It is his task also to watch over the
choice of those who are to carry out responsibilities in his diocese.
Fraternal communion requires that all the members, ministers or
lay people, listen to each other for the good of the people of
52. In the course of its history, the Church
in East and West has known various forms of practicing communion
among bishops: by exchange of letters, by visits of one Church
to another, but principally by synodal or conciliar life. From
the first centuries a distinction and a hierarchy was established
between Churches of earlier foundation and Churches of more recent
foundation, between mother and daughter Churches, between Churches
of larger cities and Churches of outlying areas. This hierarchy
of taxis soon found its canonical expression, formulated by the
councils, especially in the canons received by all the Churches
of the East and West. These are, in the first place, canons 6
and 7 of the 1st Council of Nicea (325), canon 3 of the 1st Council
of Constantinople (2nd ecumenical Council, 381), canon 28 of Chalcedon
(4th ecumenical Council, 451), as well as canons 3, 4 and 5 of
Sardica (343) and canon 1 of the Council of Saint Sophia (879-880).
Even if these canons have not always been interpreted in the same
way in the East and in the West, they belong to the heritage of
the Church. They assigned to bishops occupying certain metropolitan
or major sees a place and prerogatives recognized in the organization
of the synodal life of the Church. Thus was formed the pentarchy:
Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, even
if in the course of history there appeared apart from the pentarchy
other archbishops, metropolitans, primates and patriarchs.
53. The synodal character of episcopal activity
showed itself especially in questions under discussion which interested
several local Churches or the Churches as a whole. Thus in each
region different types of synods or local and regional councils
and conferences of bishops were organized. Their forms could change
according to different places and times, but their guiding principle
is to manifest and make efficacious the life of the Church by
joint episcopal action, under the presidency of the one whom they
recognized as the first among them. In fact, according to canon
34 of the apostolic canons, belonging to the canonical tradition
of our Churches, the first among the bishops only takes a decision
in agreement with the other bishops and the latter take no important
decision without the agreement of the first.
54. In ecumenical councils, convened in the
Holy Spirit at times of crisis, bishops of the Church, with supreme
authority, decided together about the faith and issued canons
to affirm the Tradition of the apostles in historic circumstances
which directly threatened the faith, unity and sactifying work
of the whole people of God, and put at risk the very existence
of the Church and its fidelity to its Founder, Jesus Christ.
55. It is in this perspective of communion
among local Churches that the question could be addressed of primacy
in the Church in general and, in particular, the primacy of the
bishop of Rome, a question which constitutes a serious divergence
among us and which will be discussed in the future.
Uusi Valamo (Finland), June 26, 1988
Service 68 (1988/III-IV) 173-178.]