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Quote Archive: The Offices of Bishop, Priest, and Deacon

The “Becoming Catholic” series presents the biblical, philosophical, and historical evidence for why Eternal Christendom Founder, Joshua Charles, became and remains Catholic. The series table of contents is here.

St. Ignatius of Antioch (died c. 107) (EAST)

St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Magnesians (Ch. 2, 6, 13) (c. 107)

(Ch. 2) Since, then, I have had the privilege of seeing you, through Damas your most worthy bishop, and through your worthy presbyters Bassus and Apollonius, and through my fellow-servant the deacon Sotio, whose friendship may I ever enjoy, inasmuch as he is subject to the bishop as to the grace of God, and to the presbytery as to the law of Jesus Christ, [I now write to you]…

(Ch. 6) Since therefore I have, in the persons before mentioned, beheld the whole multitude of you in faith and love, I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the beginning of time, and in the end was revealed. Do all then, imitating the same divine conduct, pay respect to one another, and let no one look upon his neighbor after the flesh, but continually love each other in Jesus Christ. Let nothing exist among you that may divide you; but be united with your bishop, and those that preside over you, as a type and evidence of your immortality

(Ch. 13) Study, therefore, to be established in the doctrines of the Lord and the apostles, that so all things, whatsoever you do, may prosper both in the flesh and spirit; in faith and love; in the Son, and in the Father, and in the Spirit; in the beginning and in the end; with your most admirable bishop, and the well-compacted spiritual crown of your presbytery, and the deacons who are according to God. Be subject to the bishop, and to one another, as Jesus Christ to the Father, according to the flesh, and the apostles to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit; that so there may be a union both fleshly and spiritual.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Trallians (Ch. 2-3, 7) (c. 107)

(Ch. 2) For, since you are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, you appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us, in order, by believing in His death, you may escape from death. It is therefore necessary that, as you indeed do, so without the bishop you should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, in whom, if we live, we shall [at last] be found. It is fitting also that the deacons, as being [the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all. For they are not ministers of meat and drink, but servants of the Church of God. They are bound, therefore, to avoid all grounds of accusation [against them], as they would do fire.

(Ch. 3) In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the Sanhedrin of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church. Concerning all this, I am persuaded that you are of the same opinion. For I have received the manifestation of your love, and still have it with me, in your bishop, whose very appearance is highly instructive, and his meekness of itself a power; whom I imagine even the ungodly must reverence, seeing they are also pleased that I do not spare myself. But shall I, when permitted to write on this point, reach such a height of self-esteem, that though being a condemned man, I should issue commands to you as if I were an apostle?…

(Ch. 7) Be on your guard, therefore, against such persons [heretics/schismatics]. And this will be the case with you if you are not puffed up, and continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ our God, and the bishop, and the enactments of the apostles. He that is within the altar is pure, but he that is without is not pure; that is, he who does anything apart from the bishop, and presbytery, and deacons, such a man is not pure in his conscience.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Philadelphians (Greeting, Ch. 7) (c. 107)

(Greeting) Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, which is at Philadelphia, in Asia, which has obtained mercy, and is established in the harmony of God, and rejoices unceasingly in the passion of our Lord, and is filled with all mercy through his resurrection; which I salute in the blood of Jesus Christ, who is our eternal and enduring joy, especially if [men] are in unity with the bishop, the presbyters, and the deacons, who have been appointed according to the mind of Jesus Christ, whom He has established in security, after His own will, and by His Holy Spirit

(Ch. 7) For though some would have deceived me according to the flesh, yet the Spirit, as being from God, is not deceived. For it knows both whence it comes and whither it goes, [John 3:8] and detects the secrets [of the heart]. For, when I was among you, I cried, I spoke with a loud voice: Give heed to the bishop, and to the presbytery and deacons. Now, some suspected me of having spoken thus, as knowing beforehand the division caused by some among you. But He is my witness, for whose sake I am in bonds, that I got no intelligence from any man. But the Spirit proclaimed these words: Do nothing without the bishop; keep your bodies as the temples of God; love unity; avoid divisions; be the followers of Jesus Christ, even as He is of His Father.

St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215) (EAST)

St. Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor (Book 3, Ch. 12) (c. 197)

(Ch. 12) …Innumerable commands such as these are written in the holy Bible appertaining to chosen persons, some to presbyters, some to bishops, some to deacons, others to widows, of whom we shall have another opportunity of speaking. Many things spoken in enigmas, many in parables, may benefit such as fall in with them. But it is not my province, says the Instructor, to teach these any longer. But we need a Teacher of the exposition of those sacred words, to whom we must direct our steps…

St. Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata (Book 6, Ch. 13) (c. 207)

(Ch. 13) …Since, according to my opinion, the grades here in the Church, of bishops, presbyters, deacons, are imitations of the angelic glory, and of that economy which, the Scriptures say, awaits those who, following the footsteps of the apostles, have lived in perfection of righteousness according to the Gospel…

St. Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170-235) (WEST)

St. Hippolytus of Rome, On the Apostolic Tradition (§9) (c. 215)1

And when a deacon is installed let him be chosen in accordance with those things which were said above, in the same way the bishop alone laying hands. Just so we prescribe that at the ordination of a deacon the bishop alone lays hands, for the reason that he is not ordained to priesthood, but to serve the bishop, that he might do those things which are commanded by him. For he is not a participant in the council of the clergy but looks after and indicates to the bishop what is necessary, not receiving the spirit of the presbytery which the presbyters share, but that which is entrusted him under the power of the bishop. For which reason the bishop alone shall ordain a deacon: on a presbyter however the presbyters also lay their hands because of the common and like spirit of their order. For the presbyter has authority in this matter only, that he may receive; he does not, however, have the authority to give. Therefore he does not appoint clergy; at the ordination of a presbyter he seals, as the bishop lays hands.

Origen (c. 184-c. 253) (EAST)

Origen, Homily on Luke 17 (c. 235)2

Not fornication only, but even marriages make us unfit for ecclesiastical honors; for neither a bishop, nor a presbyter, nor a deacon, nor a widow is able to be twice married.

St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) (EAST)

St. John Chrysostom, Homily 1 on Philippians (c. 402)

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, fellow-Bishops and Deacons: Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” [Phil. 1:1]

Here, as writing to those of equal honor, he does not set down his rank of Teacher, but another, and that a great one. And what is that? He calls himself a servant, and not an Apostle. For great truly is this rank too, and the sum of all good things, to be a servant of Christ, and not merely to be called so. The servant of Christ, this is truly a free man in respect to sin, and being a genuine servant, he is not a servant to any other, since he would not be Christ’s servant, but by halves. And in again writing to the Romans also, he says, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.” [Rom. 1:1] But writing to the Corinthians and to Timothy he calls himself an Apostle. On what account then is this? Not because they were superior to Timothy. Far from it. But rather he honors them, and shows them attention, beyond all others to whom he wrote. For he also bears witness to great virtue in them. For besides, there indeed he was about to order many things, and therefore assumed his rank as an Apostle. But here he gives them no injunctions but such as they could perceive of themselves.

“To the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi.” [Phil. 1:1]

Since it was likely that the Jews too would call themselves saints from the first oracle, when they were called a “holy people, a people for God’s own possession” [Ex. 19:6; Deut. 7:6; etc.]; for this reason he added, “to the saints in Christ Jesus.” For these alone are holy, and those hence-forward profane. “To the fellow-Bishops and Deacons.” What is this? Were there several Bishops of one city? Certainly not; but he called the Presbyters so. For then they still interchanged the titles, and the Bishop was called a Deacon. For this cause in writing to Timothy, he said, “Fulfill your ministry,” when he was a Bishop. For that he was a Bishop appears by his saying to him, “Lay hands hastily on no man.” [1 Tim. 5:22] And again, “Which was given you with the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery.” [1 Tim. 4:14] Yet Presbyters would not have laid hands on a Bishop. And again, in writing to Titus, he says, “For this cause I left you in Crete, that you should appoint elders in every city, as I gave you charge. If any man is blameless, the husband of one wife,” [Tit. 1:5-6] which he says of the Bishop. And after saying this, he adds immediately, “For the Bishop must be blameless, as God’s steward, not self-willed.” [Tit. 1:7] So then, as I said, both the Presbyters were of old called Bishops and Deacons of Christ, and the Bishops Presbyters; and hence even now many Bishops write, “To my fellow-Presbyter,” and, “To my fellow-Deacon.” But otherwise the specific name is distinctly appropriated to each, the Bishop and the Presbyter.

St. Patrick (400s) (WEST)

St. Patrick, The Confession of St. Patrick (c. 452)3

I, Patrick, a sinner, the rudest and least of all the faithful, and most contemptible to very many, had for my father Calporinus, a deacon, the son of Poitus, a priest, who lived in Bannaven Taberniae, for he had a small country-house close by, where I was taken captive when I was nearly sixteen years of age. I knew not the true God, and I was brought captive to Ireland with many thousand men, as we deserved; for we had forsaken God, and had not kept His commandments, and were disobedient to our priests, who admonished us for our salvation.

St. Patrick, Letter to Coroticus (c. 452)4

I, Patrick, a sinner and unlearned, have been appointed a bishop in Ireland, and I accept from God what I am. I dwell amongst barbarians as a proselyte and a fugitive for the love of God.

Councils

Council of Elvira (Can. 19) (c. 300)5

(Can. 19) Bishops, presbyters, and deacons may not leave their own places for the sake of commerce, nor are they to be traveling about the provinces, frequenting the markets for their own profit. Certainly for the procuring of their own necessities they can send a freedman or a hireling or a friend or whomever: but if they wish to engage in business, let him do so within the province.

Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (Can. 18) (325)

(Can. 18) It has come to the knowledge of the holy and great Synod that, in some districts and cities, the deacons administer the Eucharist to the presbyters, whereas neither canon nor custom permits that they who have no right to offer should give the Body of Christ to them that do offer. And this also has been made known, that certain deacons now touch the Eucharist even before the bishops. Let all such practices be utterly done away, and let the deacons remain within their own bounds, knowing that they are the ministers of the bishop and the inferiors of the presbyters. Let them receive the Eucharist according to their order, after the presbyters, and let either the bishop or the presbyter administer to them. Furthermore, let not the deacons sit among the presbyters, for that is contrary to canon and order. And if, after this decree, anyone shall refuse to obey, let him be deposed from the diaconate.

Footnotes

  1. St. Hippolytus of Rome, Alistair C. Stewart, trans., Hippolytus: On the Apostolic Tradition, 2nd ed. (Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2015), 102. ↩︎
  2. Jimmy Akins, The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church (San Diego: Catholic Answers Press, 2010), 316. ↩︎
  3. St. Patrick, The Confession of St. Patrick, Epistle to Coroticus, and the Tripartite Life (Aziloth Books, 2012), 8. ↩︎
  4. St. Patrick, The Confession of St. Patrick, Epistle to Coroticus, and the Tripartite Life (Aziloth Books, 2012), 28. ↩︎
  5. Jimmy Akins, The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church (San Diego: Catholic Answers Press, 2010), 316. ↩︎
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