Monday, August 10, 2009

The elders that rule well

This follows two earlier posts, namely E.J. Bicknell on Anglican Orders and Pastoral Priesthood.

In the Pastoral Epistles, in the choice of presbyters the emphasis is laid on the possession of qualities of character which are needed for pastoral supervision and teaching (I Tim3.1-7, cp. 5.17, Tit 1.7-9). So S. Peter places in the forefront of the duty of presbyters the general oversight of the flock (I Pet. 5.1-4).
E.J.Bicknell 1

Based on a proper understanding of the Biblical evidence, one title we find in Anglican churches is very sound, for it is rooted in Scripture. That title, no matter how odd it may sound to Fundamentalists is Rector. It comes from the Latin for ruler. Properly understood, however, it cannot and does not suggest tyranny or oppressive authoritarianism, but rather the loving and fatherly care of the ministry of a presbyter (priest, elder, all the same word in the Greek New Testament: πρεσβύτερος - presbyteros). I explained this before, as follows:

Indeed, the larger emphasis in the ancient Church was on [the presbyter's] role as an elder, and his pastoral care for the Church was explained both in scripture and in other early Christian writings, usually by employing the word "rule" (προΐστημι, proïstēmi). This kind of ruling has the Bible for its support. Look at these examples from the New Testament epistles.

"Let the elders (πρεσβύτερος) that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine." I Tim. 5:17

"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." Heb. 13:17

Though not using the word "rule," the same thing is expressed in this passage: "And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves." I Thes. 5:12, 13

In his classic work, Regula Pastoralis (literally, Rule of the Pastors, better known in English by the title, Pastoral Care), Pope St. Gregory the Great (circa 540 to 604) defines the word "rule" as it applies to presbyters. In this book, St. Gregory displayed a better understanding of human psychology than many modern doctors possess, examining repeatedly the attitudes and presumptions people have, and in each case the opposite. He does so in light of the need every person has strictly in light of the Christian doctrine of the Fall. Knowing that sin and death have weakened everyone, creating specific and varying deficiencies of character in just about everybody, Gregory instructs the presbyter in how to meet the needs of those whom he "rules." We learn from this that the rule of pastors in God's church is medicinal, a part of the healing that the Lord provides for his flock. The rule is not a dictatorial or tyrannical or authoritarian position taken as lords over God's people, but a remedial ministry of those who are ordained to be fathers in God's family. "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?"asks St. Paul, rhetorically (I Tim 3:5).

During the Middle Ages, the concept of the office of a presbyter became imbalanced, to the point where his sacerdotal role took over almost completely, almost to the exclusion of all else. This imbalance was the basis for the most glaring errors of Apostolicae Curae (1896), although the excellent Anglican refutations of that Papal Bull have been very thorough, most have criticized this specific aspect only briefly (see the links above for more details). It is E.J. Bicknell's defense of Anglican Orders that is the most useful for the average reader even though, in its brevity, it is not enough for a serious student unless serving as a summary of the larger and more detailed Saepius Officio (1897) by the Archbishops of England.

Even so, it is Bicknell who dared to state, boldly, what our mostly High Church Continuum movement needs to hear, if we are to develop fully the pastoral ministry of our priesthood, so as to meet the deepest needs of all our people. It is in a footnote that Bicknell cuts to the chase:

As we have said, the English word priest by derivation simply means 'presbyter'. But it has acquired the meaning of 'sacerdos'. The Christian presbyter in virtue of his office is a 'priest'. Priesthood is one of his functions.

By reminding us that the priest is a pastor and teacher, not only a sacerdos or a Kohan at the altar, Bicknell helps us return, our Anglican fathers long ago having led the way, to the emphasis that is Biblical and Patristic. Indeed, if during the early centuries of the Church, anyone would have said to the Fathers who wrote, or to the bishops who met in Ecumenical Councils, something to the effect that the main role of a
πρεσβύτερος is to be a "sacrificing priest," and that teaching, preaching and every other aspect of pastoral care is relatively unimportant in comparison, an argument to the contrary would likely ensue.

However, if anyone cares to prove otherwise, here is the opportunity to do so. Anyone who believes that quotations from Scripture and/or the Fathers of the Church can demonstrate that the πρεσβύτερος was, in the early centuries of the Church, primarily, above all other duties, a "sacrificing priest," may write comments that directly quote the primary sources. Otherwise, let Bicknell's words stand: "Priesthood is one of his functions." So too is teaching; so too is ruling as an elder who cares for the people, as a shepherd who cares for the flock, as a father who cares for the family.

1. A Theological Introduction to The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, page 339


Anonymous said...

Excellent post!

Sadly, too many priests believe that their only task is serving at the Altar. Preaching, pastoral care, evangelism, visitation of the sick and rest home residents, attending committee meetings, is just a partial list of other necessary things that encompasses being a good priest.

Good, sound preaching, that emphasizes doctrine, is very essential. I think it is so important that sermons contain scriptural references, references to the Rubrics of the BCP, references to the 39 articles and good Anglican quotations from Hooker, C.S. Lewis, the Wesleys, and any of a host of Anglican theologians.

I truly believe that the reason so many laity in TEC have swallowed the poison of modernism is that there has not been preaching on doctrine, especially true Anglican doctrine.

In TEC, RCC, and other denominations, the laity are given sermons/homilies that are of the "feel good" variety - ie, "be nice, don't hurt anyone's feelings with doctrine or theology, take communion every Sunday, and you have a ticket to heaven." This sort of watered-down, doctrine-free preaching has gotten much of the church today in a mess.

Priests should take their role of preaching very seriously. It is sound, doctrinal preaching that can keep the continuum from going down the path to modernism.

BCP Catholic

RC Cola said...

But would the teaching and ruling mean anything without the sacrifice?

Like a fire, which needs three things (heat, fuel and oxygen) to burn, you remove any one of the three aspects of the priesthood, and it doesn't matter how much or how great the other two are, and the priesthood is extinguished.

Without the sacrifice on the cross, Jesus is just another teacher, and no ruler. I think he same can be said for our priests. What gives our doctrine meaning, and what makes our rules a joy not oppression is the freedom that the sacrifice bought for us.

poetreader said...

You are repeating what Fr. Hart has said, and yet apparently attempting to make one of those aspects to be the whole purpose.

Without teaching, the Cross itself becomes, to the untaught observer, merely a tragic event, a scandal and stumblingblock, as St. Paul himself says.

Without teaching, the Eucharistic sacrifice becomes, to the untaught, mere pretty ritual.

Without ruling, or pastoral care, the unruled know not how to live, what to repent of, what comfort amy be given, and everything devolves into a feel-good individualism.

Fr. Hart is right. If teaching, or ruling, or the sacerdotal role, be so stressed as to weaken any of the others, what is manifest is a vastly weakened ministry and a vastly weakened faith, one that ultimately can fail to save in that it fails to bring the sinner into real contact with Christ.


Reformation said...


You said: "...rather the loving and fatherly care of the ministry of a presbyter (priest, elder, all the same word in the Greek New Testament: πρεσβύτερος - presbyteros). I explained this before, as follows:"

I will poke around some today in some books. I do not believe the word "presbuteros" is the same word for "priest" in the Greek NT.

While it would appear that there is little to indicate anything but the priesthood of all believers in the New Testament, there is an undebatable point to be made, to wit, there is no "presby(u)terate of all believers." That distinction of presbyter v. churchman is palpable, prima facie.

RC Cola said...

BCP Catholic: Agreed.

Ed: You reply as if you think I was picking a fight, and that you need to answer in fighting fashion. No need. I really was asking the question because it seemed like the sacerdos was being not merely de-emphasized but subordinated to the teacher and ruler. Perhaps I read it too quickly, and my question would have been answered had I slwed down to see it. But no need to come out spitting in your hands and putting up your dukes.

Here's my off-the-cuff position, as is proper for a blog.

We have a being we call priest. His subsistence is, I think, sacrifice. That's not to say that he isn't teacher and ruler, subsistence is that which gives a supposit its unity. In our case the supposit is a person whom we call "priest." Teaching does not give "priest" its unity, nor does ruling. How do we know this? Because another person can teach and rule, but no other person can sacrifice--in the technical versus colloquial sense. A teacher can teach, a king can rule. Neither can sacrifice to God. To keep it strictly religious, a deacon can teach, a mother superior can rule, but only a priest can sacrifice, only he can offer the oblation to God.

This is true even in the pagan world, where in fact the sacerdos did not have the teaching and ruling authority or charge. It was the sacrificial nature of their being that made them a priest, even if a pale metaphor for the true priesthood of Christ.

Aaron did not share all three aspects, nor did Melchizedek. That's may argument in favor of agreeing that sacrifice is NOT the only thing that makes a Catholic priest a priest. My argument for the fact that sacrifice is the pre-eminent is the fact that if you try to remove or subordinate sacrifice to teaching or ruling, you no longer have priest, but a minister of some sort. Whereas if you remove or subordinate teaching or ruling, you can still have priest, just not one that we Catholics or Orthodox would recognize as being an alter Christus because without the teaching and ruling offices, the priest would not truly be offering the sacrifice in persona Christi.

This is not at all to say that "teacher" and "ruler" are not substantial to "priest." They are, but I still submit that the subsistent is "sacerdos" because that is the one office of the three that unifies the priest as a supposit, a substantial being.

Sacrifice: pagan priest or priestess
Teach: Prophet, rabbi, professor
Rule: King, Pharaoh, President
Teach and Rule: Sage-King, Mandarins, Pharisees, Saducees
Sacrifice and Teach: Aaronic priesthood
Sacrifice and Rule: Melchizedek priesthood
Sacrifice and Teach and Rule: (Christian) Priesthood

Sacrifice is what makes priest "priest". That subsistence capping off the being who is also teacher and ruler is what makes our priests "real" priests, rather than pagan or Judaic priests.

By the way, this double word verification thing isn't just happening to me?

poetreader said...

RC Cola,

I'm sorry to have given the appearance of coming out fighting. You may justly charge me with looking as though I was over reacting, but, whew! I'm reeling from the unexpected counter-blow. Let's calm down.

Why is it necessary to place one aspect of the proper role of a priest above others? All are necessary. Yes, perhaps a priest who only offers Eucharist and neither teaches nor rules is a valid priest -- but is he fulfilling the role of a Catholic priest? Can one be sacerdos without being presbyteros? Neither Scripture nor the Fathers makes any provision for such an office. The Christian priest is offerer, teacher, and ruler, or he is not fulfilling his vocation. The concern being brought forth is not as to what is valid, but as to what the essential marks are of the vocation.

I don't mean to be combattive, but I find an attitude that tries to subsume any of the essential roles under the others to be terribly inadequate, and, unfortunately, terribly common in some circles of AngloCatholics -- but thankfully, not among most.

I'm not particularly interested in what makes a generic priest, but in what makes a Christian priest, as you said,

"Sacrifice and Teach and Rule: (Christian) Priesthood"

BTW, though I do not agree with "Reformation" on his apparent denail of the priestly nature of the ordained ministry, he does bring into this the fact that Scripture does refer to a priesthood of all believers. We are all offerers with Christ, in token of the one Sacrifice He iffered on Calvary.
While the role of the priest in sacrifice is definitely distinct from that of the layperson, it is not a different Sacrifice, as ultimately there is but one. It is the priest who personifies both Christ and the Church in the Eucharist, and it is through the priest's ministry that we may join in that eucharistic sacrifice, but it is (as the orate fratres many repeat has it) "ny sacrifice and yours" that the priest asks us to pray about. In some sense, them, we are all priests, but, as "reformation" reminds us, we are not all presbyteroi. Christian priesthood is a many-faceted thing, and it is decidedly unsafe to minimize any aspect of it.


poetreader said...

A technical note on the veriword:

When you bring up the "submit a comment" page, the veriword appears. That particular word is only current for a fairly short period of time. If you type a brief comment and submit it right away, that word will work. However, the word displayed expires quite soon, so that a longer comment rarely makes it under the wire, and you will receive a new prompt and a new veriword. I've discovered this on other blogs. It's a nuisance, but it is the way Blogspot's software operates.


Albion Land said...

My apologies, as I am ultimately responsible for this veriword thing, as I was the one who chose blogspot (quite to my satisfaction). The easiest way to avoid the problem is to compose your comment elsewhere, such as on Notepad or even Word, then hit the comment button, cut and paste, do your veriword business and be done with it, all in just a couple of seconds.

Fr. Robert Hart said...


The word that is commonly translated into English as "priest" in the N.T. is ἱερεύς (hiereus). I never said that the word translated as "priest" was πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros). So, the word for the office in the Church that we have come to call "priest" actually does mean "elder" (and is a strictly male word, by the way). The N.T. implies priesthood as part of the office of the presbyteros when speaking of offering and of (as Heb. 13) our altar that even the Levitical priests may not eat from. In its early years the Church established that the Bishop is the one through whom the Church offers the Eucharistic sacrifice as, literally the "good thanksgiving," and allowed only those whom the bishop appoints, i.e. the elders or presbytery, to do so in his place.

RC Cola wrote this interesting list of designations:

acrifice: pagan priest or priestess
Teach: Prophet, rabbi, professor
Rule: King, Pharaoh, President
Teach and Rule: Sage-King, Mandarins, Pharisees, Saducees
Sacrifice and Teach: Aaronic priesthood
Sacrifice and Rule: Melchizedek priesthood
Sacrifice and Teach and Rule: (Christian) Priesthood
Earlier he had written this:

A teacher can teach, a king can rule. Neither can sacrifice to God. To keep it strictly religious, a deacon can teach, a mother superior can rule, but only a priest can sacrifice, only he can offer the oblation to God.
Let us consider that whereas a certain level of teaching and pastoral care may be carried out by lay people and by deacons, and to good effect with genuine charismatic abilities imparted by the Holy Spirit, that there is something nonetheless distinct about the authority with which a presbyter teaches and preaches. And, remember too that in the Law of Moses the kohanim not only offered sacrifice, but also taught and passed judgment when certain matters required decision.

"The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity.
For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts." Mal. 2:6,7

The word Kohan was translated in the LXX as hiereus, and the word for elder (zaqen) was translated in the LXX as presbyteros.

The irony, from an etymological standpoint, is that, following our Bible translations, we use the word priest when speaking of a hiereus or kohan, even though "priest" evolved from the word for elder, presbyteros.

What it boils down to is that the man who is an elder (presbyter) is the man through whom the Church exercises its priesthood, in the hiereus or kohan sense of the word. In a way our confusion in English is convenient, calling the elder a priest, recognizing his sacerdotal role. But, it is inconvenient if it makes us lose the idea of an elder. Those who limit Christian priesthood strictly to service at the altar make this mistake.

Also, please remember what I said about how the word "rule" is used. The elder does not rule as a king, but as a father. This is where part of understanding a word must take into account not only its definition, but also its usage; in this case, the usage of the New Testament writers and early Church Fathers.

RC Cola said...

Ed, no hard feelings at all. Sorry for winding up and taking counter-punch.

We're all friends here, so I hope all is forgiven.

After all is said and done, I certainly do agree with Fr. Hart that a priest who only exercises his office of sacrificer, and ignores (or even just downplays) his offices as teacher and ruler is really doing his parish a disservice.

poetreader said...

Hey, I NEED to be scolded once in a while. No problem at all. We're really in pretty close agreement, both reacting agasinst different varieties of sloppy thinking. Makes for a good discussion.


RC Cola said...

An analogy crossed my mind. "Priest" is more than a man who sacrifices. He is a Father/ruler and a teacher. But our word in English doesn't capture the depth and breadth of the meaning.

Likewise, the English word for "love" by trying to include the various meanings in Greek fails at all of them.

Then I find myself thinking, that God has given us both priests and love. I don't know what all to say about that, but I find myself deeply grateful for such a mystery.

poetreader said...

To call a man a carpenter is to describe what he does. To call a man a Christian priest is to describe what he is. What a priest does flows out of what he is. He teaches, rules, and sacrifices because that is what a priest does.


Anonymous said...


You rightly pointed out that a Christian Priest teaches, rules, and sacrifices.

To that I would add one more. A Christian priest must love. This is a very important one we must not forget.

Without the true love of Christ lived out in the priest's life, he will not be able to teach, rule, and sacrifice in the fullness of the potential of his ordination. Without having the love of Christ, and without loving the sheep of his flock, the priest can teach, rule, and sacrifice, but not nearly as he can if he truly possesses love and lives a life of sharing and giving that love to others.

BCP Catholic