Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Laymen's guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles

Article XXVI

Of the unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments

Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometime the evil have chief authority in the ministration of the word and sacraments; yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ's, and do minister by His commission and authority, we may use their ministry both in hearing the word of God and in the receiving of the sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God's gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the sacraments ministered unto them, which be effectual because of Christ's institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.
Nevertheless it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church that inquiry be made of evil ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty by just judgement, be deposed.

De vi institutionum divinarum, quod eam non tollat malitia Ministrorum

Quamvis in Ecclesia visibili bonis mali semper sunt admixti, atque interdum ministerio verbi et sacramentorum administrationi praesint ; tamen cum non suo sed Christi nomine agant, eiusque mandato et auctoritate ministrent, illorum ministerio uti licet cum in verbo Dei audiendo tum in sacramentis percipiendis. Neque per illorum malitiam effectus institutorum Christi tollitur aut gratia donorum Dei minuitur quoad eos qui fide et rite sibi oblata percipiunt, quae propter institutionem Christi et promissionem efficacia sunt, licet per malos administrentur.
Ad Ecclesiae tamen disciplinam pertinet, ut in malos ministros inquiratur, accusenturque ab his qui eorum flagitia noverint; atque tandem, iusto convicti iudicio, deponantur.

          Two important facts are presented in this Article: 1. That sacramental efficacy and pure preaching can be real and valid when ministered by unworthy persons, and 2. that the Church must, nonetheless, exercise discipline and maintain moral standards.
Article XXVI introduced nothing new in the teaching of the Church. St. John Chysostom wrote:

“So that it is possible having wrought even miracles to be carnal. For so God wrought by Balaam and unto Pharaoh. He revealed things to come and unto Nebuchadnezzar, and Caiaphas prophesied not knowing what he said, yea and some others cast out devils in His name though they were not with Him, since not for the doer’s sake are (Luke 9:49) these things done, but for others’ sake. Nor is it seldom that those who were positively unworthy have been made instrumental to them. Now why wonder if in the case of unworthy men these things are done for others sake, seeing that so it is even when they are wrought by saints. For so Paul saith,

‘All things are yours whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or life or death and again.’ ‘He gave some Apostles and some Prophets and some Pastors and Teachers the perfecting of the Saints unto the work of the ministry (I Cor. 3:22, Eph. 4:11,12).

“For if it were not so, there would have been no security against universal corruption. For it may be that rulers are wicked and polluted and their subjects good and virtuous, that laymen may live in piety and priests in wickedness, and there could not have been either Baptism or the Body of Christ or Oblation through such if in every instance grace required merit. But as it is, God uses to work even by unworthy persons, and in no respect is the grace of Baptism damaged by the conduct of the priest, else would the receiver suffer loss. Accordingly though such things happen rarely, still it must be owned they do happen. Now these things I say lest any one of the bystanders, busying himself about the life of the priest, should be offended as concerning the things solemnized. For man introduces nothing into the things which are set before us, but the whole is a work of the power of God, and He it is who initiates you into the mysteries.”1

          Saint Paul wrote that “The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29 RSV).” Although the context is about Israel and election, the principle stated is not limited to the immediate topic. In both the first chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to Titus, and in the third chapter of his First Epistle to St. Timothy, the Apostle laid down requirements concerning the kind of men who ought to be ordained. He also warned, “Lay hands suddenly on no man (I Tim. 5:22).” The RSV translates it, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands.”
          One of the most clear points to be gleaned from the Pastoral Epistles is that the foundation of Apostolic Succession is demonstrated very early in the life of the Church. “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders (πρεσβύτερος, presbyteros i.e. priests) in every city, as I had appointed thee (Titus 1:5).” Both of the truths we find stated in Article XXVI can be drawn from these passages.
          Both Timothy and Titus are warned to select only qualified men, those who not only can teach soundly, but also who demonstrate by their lives an example worthy to be followed by others, and one that avoids scandal. The warning extends not only to allowing them to act, but to ordination itself. To lay hands on a man in haste is risky because the impartation of the spiritual gift, the charismatic reality of ordination, is not in question. Once given, “The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”
Paul did not address the subject of sacramental validity in the texts in question. Rather, the sacramental validity of ordination is assumed in these texts of Scripture. If, in haste, the Ordinary lays hands on an unworthy man, one whose manner of life makes him notorious, he is nonetheless ordained. St. John Chrysostom has helped us to understand the reason why God, in His goodness and mercy, uses even the worst of men if they have been ordained, as we have seen: “Since not for the doer’s sake are these things done, but for others’ sake…But as it is, God uses to work even by unworthy persons…else would the receiver suffer loss… For man introduces nothing into the things which are set before us, but the whole is a work of the power of God, and He it is who initiates you into the mysteries.”
          Why should a sincere believer suffer loss because of the sins of priests? If the people, having been baptized and receiving Holy Communion, could not rely on the grace of God in the sacraments, how could they approach the sacramental life with any faith? It would depend on the hidden motives and lives of men, rather than on God. But, God has made it so that we may be sure and certain of His work, and so live the sacramental life in faith. How, also, could one receive instruction and believe the Gospel if faith in the Gospel depended on the hidden motives and lives of men, rather than on God?
          “Nevertheless it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church that inquiry be made of evil ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty by just judgment, be deposed.”
          It may be discovered, indeed too often has been discovered, that a man was ordained who lives a notorious life. The standards of St. Paul (Titus 1:5-9, I Tim.3:1-13) might appear to be met at the time of ordination, only for a later exposure of scandalous living. In such cases, the ministry of the man must end by the lawful action of the Church, even though Ordination itself is an indelible sacrament. He remains ordained, but his license to act as a minister in the Church must be taken away.
          This second part of Article XXVI is an important point too often overlooked. It is true that sacramental validity is essential to the life of the Church, if only for the sake of the people’s faith. They deserve to have no doubts about that validity, but assurance. However, the people also need true pastors with a good heart, men who can teach both by virtue of knowledge gained through diligent learning, and by having the ability to live as examples to the people of God. St. Paul was able to say, “Brethren, join in imitating me, and mark those who so live as you have an example in us (Phil. 3:17 RSV).” And, St. Peter wrote:
“So I exhort the elders (πρεσβύτερος, presbyteros i.e. priests) among you, as a fellow elder (πρεσβύτερος) and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory (I Peter 5:1-4 RSV).”
          In both passages that list the standards, to Titus and to Timothy, Paul includes the ability to teach sound doctrine. So, a man must be able to speak both with knowledge and as an example to the people of God. Otherwise, he has no true ability to teach effectively over the long run. His life will speak louder than his words. It goes back to a very ancient commandment: “Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy (Lev. 19:2).”

1. St. John Chrysostom’s Homilies on The First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, Homliy VIII.

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