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Catholic Apologetics

Chapter 18 -- Holy Orders


Holy Orders is the sacrament of apolstolic ministry. Those who receive the sacrament serve in one of three capacities-bishop, priest or deacon.

CCC 1533 - Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist are sacraments of Christian initiation. They ground the common vocation of all Christ's disciples, a vocation to holiness and to the mission of evangelizing the world. They confer the graces needed for the life according to the Spirit during this life as pilgrims on the march towards the homeland.

CCC 1534 - Two other sacraments, Holy Orders and Matrimony, are directed towards the salvation of others; if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God.

CCC 1536 - Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate.

The Catechism states that Holy Orders is a sacrament directed towards the salvation of others. It is a service to others that assists in their salvation. Those of us who are married have no confusion regarding the concept of serving others, and all of us can imagine the amount of time and energy spent serving others by bishops, priests and deacons.

God gives the Holy Spirit to His ministers when He ordains them, to empower them for their new ministry. In the New Testament, when Jesus commissioned the apostles to the priesthood, he breathed on them so they could receive the Holy Spirit. (John 20:22)

Non-Catholics who challenge this sacrament usually challenge where the three offices are established in Scripture, the hierarchal nature of the three offices (indeed, many challenge any hierarchy within the church at all), why participants must be men, why bishops and priests are called "father", and why bishops and priests must remain celibate.

Sources in Scripture

Matt 18:18-20 - Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, (amen,) I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

Mark 16:15 - He said to them, "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.

Matt 28:18-20 - Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

Jesus spoke these words to the apostles. The word 'apostle' means 'one who is sent'. Jesus sent the apostles into the world to make disciples of all nations, to baptize people and teach them to observe Jesus' commandments, to proclaim the gospel to every creature. This was the great commission and the beginning of apostolic ministry.

Acts 13:2-3 - While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then, completing their fasting and prayer, they laid hands on them and sent them off.

The original apostles then sent others as apostles. Here the Church sent Paul and Barnabas. (Recall that 'Paul' is the Greko transliteration of the Hebraic name 'Saul'.)

Eph 4:11 - It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,

1 Cor 12:28 - And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.

Few would doubt the office of apostle holds a special place in the Church. The apostles did go out into the world, and did spread the good news. They appointed other converts to further spread the news. Those other converts appointed yet other converts to further spread the news. (Therein lies the hierarchal and successive nature of the ministry.)

2 Tim 2:2 - And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well.

Tit 1:5 - For this reason I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you,

Here we see an apostle (Paul) appointing bishops (Timothy and Titus), who further appoint priests (presbyters), who entrust faithful people. The Greek word presbuteros can be translated as elder (which many Protestant faiths accept) or priest.

Acts 14:23 - They appointed presbyters for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith.

Paul and Barnabas appointed presbyters (priests).

2 Tim 1:6,9 - For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began.

Paul reminds Timothy that Timothy's office came through the laying of hands on him by Paul, and that God called them to a holy life, they didn't call themselves. Holy Orders is a calling. To receive the sacrament is to accept the calling. In addition, it is not for everyone.

1 Tim 5:22 - Do not lay hands too readily on anyone

All bishops, priests and deacons receive their offices by the laying-on of hands. Paul admonishes Timothy to not lay hands on anyone that comes along, but show some diligence in determining the individual meets the criteria.

Titus 1:7-9 - For a bishop as God's steward must be blameless, not arrogant, not irritable, not a drunkard, not aggressive, not greedy for sordid gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, temperate, just, holy, and self-controlled, holding fast to the true message as taught so that he will be able both to exhort with sound doctrine and to refute opponents.

1 Tim 3: 1-10 - This saying is trustworthy: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Therefore, a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not aggressive, but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the church of God? He should not be a recent convert, so that he may not become conceited and thus incur the devil's punishment. He must also have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, the devil's trap.

Similarly, deacons must be dignified, not deceitful, not addicted to drink, not greedy for sordid gain, holding fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. Moreover, they should be tested first; then, if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

Here, Paul distinguishes the offices of bishop and deacon. The requirements to be a bishop are more stringent than those of a deacon, as would be expected if bishop were a higher rank within the Church. Note also Paul freely states that it is an office, meaning it can be vacated and filled as necessary, and not a one-time position for one particular individual only.

Titus 1:5-6 - For this reason I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you, on condition that a man be blameless, married only once, with believing children who are not accused of licentiousness or rebellious.

1 Tim 5:17-19 - Presbyters who preside well deserve double honor, especially those who toil in preaching and teaching. For the scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it is threshing," and, "A worker deserves his pay." Do not accept an accusation against a presbyter unless it is supported by two or three witnesses.

Paul likewise distinguishes the office of presbyter (priest). Thus, we see many examples in Scripture describing the offices of bishop, priest and deacon.

But, what about the following:

1 Pet 2:4-5,9-10 - Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . But you are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises" of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were "no people" but now you are God's people; you "had not received mercy" but now you have received mercy.

Some Protestants argue we are all a kingdom of priests, a royal priesthood. There is no longer a need for ministerial priests since we are all priests. They quote passages like this one above from the first letter of Peter.

Peter says "like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house". He is not speaking of a single biological family of father, mother and a few kids; he is speaking of the spiritual house of God--the entire Body of Christ. Notice also that Peter says we are to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices. That's what priests do--they offer sacrifices.

When Peter claims we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and a people of his own, it is all n quotes. Peter is quoting the Old Testament, presumably verses well known by his readers. Peter wanted to emphasize what was promised to ancient Israelites is now the province of Christians.

When Peter says Christians are a chosen race, he is referring to Isaiah 43:20-21. The concept of royal priesthood and holy nation comes from Exodus 19:6. A people of his own comes from Malachi 3:17. Focusing on the royal priesthood, let's look at Ex 19:6. God was speaking to Moses on Mt Sinai and said:

Ex 19:3-6 - "Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob; tell the Israelites: You have seen for yourselves how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagle wings and brought you here to myself. Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine. You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. That is what you must tell the Israelites."

God made the Israelites a kingdom of priests, and Moses told them so. As God commanded in the verses that followed, the people (who, by now, were all part of a royal priesthood) had to sanctify themselves and wash their garments in preparation of meeting the Lord on the third day. But, in verses 22 and 24, God points out that the priests (in addition to the people) must also sanctify themselves and wash their garments. This suggests the people were a nation of priests, but there existed a ministerial office of priesthood as well.

This transpired before the Levitical priesthood was established, which occurs later in Exodus. This confirms there was a priestly ministry in place that pre-dated Mosaic law. A priestly ministry as evidenced by Melchizedek, and even Moses' father-in-law, Jethro. Thus, when the Levitical law is abolished, as expressed so often by Paul in his letters, the prior priestly ministry was not abolished with it.

So it is in the New Testament, as Peter tells us. We are a kingdom of priests, with Jesus as our high priest, but we also have a mid-level ministerial office of priesthood.

Christians serve and worship God, thus performing the priestly functions of the life, passion, and resurrection of Jesus.

Hierarchy of the Offices

The bishops are the successors of the apostles. We saw in the chapter on Apostolic Succession the clear succession of the offices. We do not need to repeat it here, and I encourage you to review that chapter to refresh your understanding.

The word 'hierarchy' literally means 'priestly rule'. Throughout time, it came to define any kind of rule, at any civil, military or liturgical level. But its source is 'priestly rule'.

The Catholic Church is steadfast in their support of hierarchy in all walks of life-government, military, family, Church. Most non-Catholic Christians are steadfast in their support of hierarchy in government, military and family, but not the Church.

Did God set up a hierarchy in the apostolic ministry?

Heb 13:7,17 - Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you.

The author of Hebrews takes for granted there are leaders in the Church. At the time Hebrews was written, the leaders were successors to the original apostles, as explained above. He admonishes his readers to remember and obey their leaders. There is no suggestion that there is no place for a ruling body within the faith.

Why Men Only?

In 21st Century America, it is difficult for us to understand why the apostolic ministry is restricted to men only. It doesn't appear to be politically correct, and it counters the notion many of us have about an impartial, just God. Let's explore the reasons behind the Church's teaching.

Today's society has all but demolished the hierarchal authority of men. It is no more apparent than in the family. To suggest that a man is king of his own castle is sexist at best, and otherwise undeserving of a second consideration when stated. Men are no longer providers for the family first and foremost; indeed it is more frequent that women are the primary bread-winners. Some women prefer to have a partner to get them started with a family, then pursue a family life without a husband/father figure around (that is not to suggest most single-parent households fall into this stigma). Today, the view is more egalitarian, wherein both partners share in domestic/familial responsibilities and decision-making on an "equal" level. There is no assumption of roles, and no one has the ultimate authority to call the shots. There is dual-authority or no authority at all.

A natural consequence of the challenge of authority is the 'no authority at all' concept. If no spouse should be subjected to the authority of the other spouse, then why must the children be subjected to the authority of either parent? If one spouse can not make the decisions that bind the other spouse, why can either bind the children? With greater frequency, society tells children their parents have no authority to tell them what to do, what to believe, what to wear, what to smoke/not smoke, whether to have sex before marriage, and whether they have the right to keep it all secret from their parents. Schools dispense condoms without parents' knowledge. Young girls get abortion counseling without their parents even knowing they are pregnant. If their parents restrict their activities, the children can seek redress with school counselors and nurses. Parents can lose their legal rights to be parents if they are deemed too authoritarian with their kids (meaning they don't allow the kids to do what they want).

And this spills out into social programs backed by government authorities (which are increasingly trying to usurp the family authority). Pregnancy and child-rearing are presented as avoidable burdens, so naturally abortion, sterilization and contraception are the preferred alternatives. If a heterosexual lifestyle is presented as stifling, then naturally experimenting in homosexuality is the answer. Marriage itself is an experiment, not a commitment. If you find yourselves incompatible or even just bored, get a divorce.

The error in this evolution is the assumption it is somehow special or more important to be the one that calls the shots. God shows us time and time again how it is the one who is lowly in the eyes of the world who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. That which is important to the world is just not important to God. If we truly seek God, if we truly want to do His will, we will delight in that which pleases Him.

Eph 5:21-30 - Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So (also) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.

This is God's plan. It is balanced, complex yet simple, and it works. God does everything for a reason. In the long run, it always turns out to be the right thing to do. God shows us the way He set it up, and then patiently lets us depart from that way if we so choose. He wants men to fulfill certain tasks and women to fulfill other tasks for a reason. It is not because women are more important than men, or visa versa. It is not because women are smarter than men, or visa versa. It is not because women are more holy than men, or visa versa. It is not because of any earthly, vain reason--it is because He set it up that way. He gave each of us talents to do our tasks, and everything works best when we stick to His plan.

Sticking to His plan requires us to use our talents to further His will. If we use our talents for our own selfish gain, then we oppose His plan. If we abuse our authority by selfishly serving our own needs and desires at the expense of those of the family, then we oppose His plan.

Sticking to His plan also requires us to fulfill the roles He made for us. If we vainly prefer to do it our own way, then we oppose His plan. The burdens of pregnancy and child-rearing are not subordinated to enslaved wives so husbands can pursue their own chauvinistic lifestyle. The beauty of pregnancy and child-rearing are elevated to the enlightened wife so the husband can love and serve the family as provider and protector.

In any case, the family will suffer the consequences of our choices.

So it is with society as well. If God gives us the talents and opportunity to serve (which is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven), but we prefer instead to be served (which is greatest in the world), then we oppose His plan. We are seeking the wrong prize, and the community will suffer the consequences of our choices.

Jesus had the opportunity to name anyone as His apostles. There were many women in the discipleship that travelled with Him, and one, Mary Magdalene, is mentioned prominently throughout the Gospels. Other faiths of the time, particularly Greko/Roman pagan faiths, had priestesses, so it would not have been unthinkable for Jesus to do the same. Besides, Jesus was never one to avoid controversy in his ministry. If Jesus had wanted female priests, He would have made it so. For whatever reason, Jesus chose all males.

In all of the Bible verses quoted above, Paul addresses apostles/bishops, priests and deacons in the masculine. For example, here Paul is speaking of bishops:

1 Tim 3: 4-7 - He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the church of God? He should not be a recent convert, so that he may not become conceited and thus incur the devil's punishment. He must also have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, the devil's trap.

If the Holy Spirit inspired Paul when this was written, then the Word of God addresses the apostolic ministry in the masculine.

Ordination is a gift, not a right. God calls you, and you either accept or reject the gift. Women are called by God, and serve Him in many capacities, including as nuns. There are saints, theologians and doctors of the Church who were women. The only restriction seems to be on the priestly office or apostolic ministry.

The priest is said to act in persona Christi, or literally, in the person of Christ. Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride. A man is the symbol for a bridegroom.

Recall also that Jesus commissioned the original apostles with the power "whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven". (Matt 18:18) Previously He stated that the netherworld shall not prevail against His Church. (Matt 16:18) Therefore, Jesus would make sure that whatever the Church chose to bind on Earth and Heaven would be bound for all eternity. If the Church taught one truth as dogma, then later changed their minds and reversed that truth, then the netherworld would have prevailed in that one or the other dogma would not have been true. Many centuries ago, for the reasons stated above and others, the Church declared as unchangeable dogma that the offices of bishop, priest and deacon are open to males only. The Church can not now change that dogma. Even if they wanted to change it, Jesus would not allow it.

CCC 1577 - "Only a baptized man validly receives sacred ordination." The Lord Jesus chose men to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry. The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ's return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible.

This points to the necessity to do it God's way. It is not up to us to challenge why God does it the way He does. We are only to follow His plan.

Why Call Priests 'Father'?

Many Protestants claim when Catholics give their priests/bishops the title of "father", they are in direct opposition to Scripture. Jesus said to call no one on earth your father, so Catholics violate that mandate in addressing their priests. Let's investigate Jesus' words in this matter.

Matt 23:1-12 - Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation 'Rabbi.' As for you, do not be called 'Rabbi.' You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called 'Master'; you have but one master, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Reading the verse highlighted in bold above by itself leaves the reader with a rather straight-forward interpretation--we are not to call anyone on earth our father. I have shown several verses before and after this verse to give it to you in context, where it expresses a slightly different message.

Jesus is speaking of the Pharisees who love places of honor, seats of honor, greetings and salutations of stature. Jesus is telling his followers not to be like them. The Pharisees like to be called 'Rabbi' because it is a title of honor. Jesus says his followers should not seek the honor of the title since there is only one deserving of the honor (Jesus Himself), and they are all brothers, meaning equal in stature. The Pharisees like to be called "father" since Jews held fathers of the faith in high esteem. Jesus says not to seek the honorable title since there is only one deserving of the honor (God Himself).

The Holy Spirit is the inspiration of Scripture. The Holy Spirit would not note Jesus commanding to call no one "father", then have others called "father" in Scripture.

1 Cor 4:15 - Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Here Paul calls himself "father". In Luke 16:24,30, Jesus addresses Abraham as "Father Abraham". Similarly in John 8:56, Philemon 1:10, 1 John 2:13-14, and Acts 7:1-2, the Holy Spirit inspired the authors to use the word "father". There are many other instances in both the Old and New Testaments where the Holy Spirit inspired the word "father" to appear. Is the Holy Spirit confused? Does He contradict Himself in this regard?

In Matthew 18:8-9, Jesus says we are to gouge out our eyes or cut off our hands and feet if they cause us to sin. Most theologians, both Catholic and Protestant, agree Jesus is speaking in hyperbole to exaggerate the seriousness of avoiding sin. When Jesus spoke the words to call no man father, He likewise spoke in hyperbole, as explained above. If we could not call our own biological male parents "father", then calling God by the title of "Father" would have no meaning.

Do Protestants call no one on earth "father"? Do they call their own male parent "father"? The passage above says to call no one "rabbi". Rabbi means "teacher". Do Protestants call no one on earth "teacher"? If we can't use the words "father" and "teacher", then we will have to invent new words to express the meaning. It is a stretch to think Jesus meant to change our vocabularies. It makes perfect sense that He meant to minimize seeking honor, and simply serve in the capacity.

Why Celibacy?

We note in the verses above (under the category of Sources in Scripture) that when Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus regarding the qualifications of bishops, priests and deacons, he always included the condition of being married only once. If bishops, priests and deacons can be married only once, it would seem they could be married. Why the current restriction on celibacy?

The restriction is a discipline, not a dogma. The Church does not claim that God demands all priests to be celibate; the Church imposes that rule because it is a good idea. The rule can be changed at any time (disciplines can be changed, as compared to dogmas which cannot), It is similar to a rule that all priests must first complete seminary before they become ordained (or that Protestant ministers must first complete seminary before they become preachers in their congregations). Nowhere does God state there a requirement for a priest (or minister) to attend seminary.

Still, if Paul allowed it, why does the Catholic Church have a discipline against being married?

I would like to mention, as is true of most rules, there are exceptions. For instance, a priest in an Eastern Rite Catholic Church can be married. A priest who is ordained in another faith (such as Anglican) and is married, can convert to the Roman Catholic faith, remain married, and become a Roman Catholic priest.

1 Cor 7:32-35 - I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction.

Paul recognizes how marriage, although it is proper and holy, can greatly interfere with dedication to the Lord. He mentions it is not an official requirement from him, but he is telling them for their own benefit. The Roman Catholic Church agrees.

Matt 19:9-12 - I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery." [His] disciples said to him, "If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry." He answered, "Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it."

Jesus preached that it is good to renounce marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Roman Catholic Church agrees.

1 Cor 7:8-9 - Now to the unmarried and to widows, I say: it is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do, but if they cannot exercise self-control they should marry, for it is better to marry than to be on fire.

Paul confirms he was chaste, and it is better for all (not just priests) to remain single. (Note that Jesus was also chaste.)

2 Tim 2:3-4 - Bear your share of hardship along with me like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. To satisfy the one who recruited him, a soldier does not become entangled in the business affairs of life.

Paul is admonishing Timothy not to become entangled in the business affairs of life. Timothy is to be as free as he can be to serve God and the Church.

These all point to the wisdom of remaining chaste if you are to serve the Lord as a priest or bishop.

Parting Comment

There is plenty of support in Scripture for the sacrament of Holy Orders. Scripture describes the hierarchy of the offices, why only men can serve as priests, the permission to call priests 'father', and the advantages of celibacy.

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