PRIESTS IN THE EARLY CHURCH AND IN VATICAN II
The Second Vatican Council is itself interested in the priesthood, especially in regard to two debates: in these two principal fields, it is interesting to see which points of its discussion continue that of the early Church.
1. The first debate was about the nature of the priesthood. The Council has responded by beginning with the sacramentality of the episcopate, as the source of collegiality.
In other words, it hastens to recognize that the bishops were not just simple priests with superior power over other priests merely for the sake of making someone a delegate, either of the Pope or of the community. Rather, the consecration which they receive inserts them into the mystery of the apostolic succession and brings about in them a change in being. The Council designated this change as "ontological" at the precise level of the "munera", the messianic works of Christ and his Church.
The Bishops receive them already in ordination by the simple fact that they are newly configured to Christ, Head and Pastor. The indelible "character" has the consequence of enabling them to preach, to celebrate the sacraments, and to govern, having received this configuration, and having become also members of the body, a "sui generis college" of the consecrated, who in themselves are united with the Bishop of Rome, the Head of this College and the Supreme Pontiff, keeper of the Supreme Power of the Church universal. The concrete exercise of these duties demands more of a bond of communion, or to state the principle clearly in canonical terms, ordination itself confers a "Sacred Power" distinctively all its own, a sacramental power to build up the Church ( in contrast to the power of post-enlightened society, where there is a sense of competition between various interest groups).
After having affirmed these principles, the Council draws out the consequences
for priests, valid also in part for deacons. Above all, in the Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium number 28, in the Decree on the ministry and life of priests, Presbyterorum ordinis, and also partly in the Decree on the "munus pastorale" of the bishops, Christus dominus, which treats of the collaborators of the Bishop, it recognizes that also the priests in their grade of ministry are invested with one "Sacred Power" and already participate in the configuration to Christ which they receive at ordination. They are participants together with the Bishops, in the same priesthood and in the same mission of Christ, something which the early church held in highest resteem c.f. Constitution Ecclesiasticum Apostolorum, XVIII: Presbyteri sunt symmystai et synepimachoi Episcoporum (Th. Schermann, Die allgemeine Kirchenordnung I Padervorn 19145, p.26; A Harnack T.u.U., II,4, p.13, n. 18 et 19) Pseudo-Hieronymus, De Septem Ordinibus Ecclesiae: in benedictione cum episcopis consortes mysteriorum sunt" (A.W. Kalff, Wurzburg 1937, p. 45) S. Isidorum Hispalensis, De Ecclesiasiticis Officiis, C. VII: "Praesunt enim Ecclesiae Christi, et in confectione divini corporis et sanguinis consortes cum episcopis sunt, similiter et in doctrina populorum, et in officio praedicandi " (PL 83, 787).
The priests are ordained as co-operators of a Bishop: They do not participate in the supreme power of the Episcopal college for the Church universal ; and they can not speak of a universal "college" of priests in the same sense, but for them, ordination also inserts them into a Sacramental Order, which is universal and confers a new ontological participation to the "munera" of Christ, which makes them capable of implementing these duties in his name and in the name of the Church, in any place, after having first received a concrete mandate from a Bishop.
This doctrine has been summarized in the new edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church " The sacramental ministry in the Church is a service exercised in the name of Christ. It has a personal character and a collegial form." This deepening of doctrine has carried with it a profound consequence in the reform of the ecclesiastical institution, but it is significant to show that always , by means of diverse formulations of human laws, one rediscovers the institutions of the early Church, of the Church of all time.
For example, to rediscover the universal dimension of the mission received at ordination (PO 10) has looked again at the discipline of "incardination" that is of the necessary attachment of each priest to a particular ecclesial community, in which he gives his priestly service. Such a membership is always required ;and in now way can "vaganti" priests be tolerated, going from city to city, which the Council of Chalcedon (451) has already stigmatized with such great vigour. (can.5) But each priest, conscious of his own personal responsibility to the Church universal, can request of the superior of his community to go to serve a community which has greater needs, if such a thing is reasonable or he can ask to change his own incardination. The Council has also recommended the erection of a personal prelature of priests specially prepared for some specific competence.in the interest of the Church universal or for service to international seminaries.
Regarding the personal character of the minister, a rediscovery of the foundation of priestly "powers" is centred around a configuration to Christ, which makes it so that the priest might act always in his name and even when it is not strictly an action done in the name of Christ ("in persona Christi" which is only the case in the administration of the sacraments) .This has led to a revaluation of the internal unity of all of the priestly duties. Anyway the entrusted ministry whether in teaching, or in the governance of the parish, or in the administration of the sacraments, to present a humanity more closelyunited to the one Christ, which gathers in all men. In such a way great importance is attributed to the homily, which is not only an explanation of the sacred text, but a realization of the mystery, expressed in the form of word which brings about the mysterious presence of Christ... it is not therefore a quid separable from the Eucharistic mystery. The one who is configured to Christ is capable of preaching anywhere on earth, without particular delegation. It is therefore extended to all priests, as a normal faculty, whereas previously it was constituted a cardinal privilege. . The discipline is therefore different- but under it comes the same idea one finds already in the Statuta Ecclesiae Antiqua, c.3 (Ch Munier, Paris 1960, p.79) according to which in the chronological sketch , the first obligation of the bishops and of their collaborators, is the preching of the Gospel of God to all men all the way to the ends of the earth.
Regarding the collegial character, more ancient texts have been discovered both in the East and West which enhance the value of the priesthood. (S, Cornelius I. apud S. Cyprianum, Epist. 48 2 CSEL (Hartel) III, 2, p. 610 "Omni actu ad me perlato, placuit contrahi prestyerium "), and also the role of the priests as "native counselors" of the Bishop. For example the Trad Apost. "...respice super servum tuum istum et impartire spiritum gratiae et consilii, praesbyteris ut adiuvet et gubernat plebem tuam in corde mundo sicuti respexisti super populum electionis tuae et praecepisti Moisi ut elegeret praesbyteros quos replesti de spiritu to quod tu donasti famulo tuo" (ex antiqua versione latina Veronensi, ed. B. Botte La Tradition apostolique de S. Hippolyte. Essai de reconstruction, Munster i.w. 1963 p.20) O Origenes Adv. Celsum 3, 30 : presbyteri sunt consiliarii seu bouleytai PG 11, 957 d-960 a.
These matters of conscience have brought us to reform the cathedral chapters, to bring more into the light their nature as a representative college of public prayer of the presbyterate in behalf of the particular Church; transferred to a new college the presbyteral council, the notion of "a senate of the Bishop" about which St. Ignatius M. Trall., 3, 1 "Cuncti similiter reverentur diaconos ut Iesum Christum sicut ety episcopum qui est typus Patris, presbyteros autem un senatum Dei et concilium apostolorum; sine his ecclesia non vocatur " (Funk, p. 244, 10-12 ). The scope, not being that of "limitare" limiting the powers of the Bishop but of making it so that in his "munus" of governance, he can always avail himself of the opinion of those who have sacramentally received this gift of the Council and who with him are uniquely competent to treat pastoral matters.
2. The second great conciliar debate dealt with the "style" of priests by which they should conduct themselves: more a "missionary" style, dedicated to social works, to evangelization or rather a more "cultural"style, dedicated to the administration of the sacraments and adoration.
The merit of the debate which took the text of the decree Presbyterorum ordinis under review seven times, was to demonstrate the falsehood of such an antagonism. In order to be missionary, the priest should be a man of God, and vice versa. The conciliar decree has recovered an ancient theme,i.e. the "sacramental character" of the primacy of Eucharistic service in the order of finality. And at the same time, has affirmed the primacy of the service of the word in the order of celebration, uniting all of these terms with the concept of "the unity of life" and of "pastoral charity".
And also on this level of style, syntheses have brought more into the light the continuity of the early Church, as is demonstrated in the numerous references to the Fathers. For example about the unity between the sacraments and evangelization, cf. S Hieronymus in Matt, 28 19 (PL 26, 218 BC) "Primum docent gentes, deinde doctas intingunt aqua. Non enim potest fieri ut corpus baptismi recipiat sacramentum, nisi ante anima fidei susceperit veritatem.
About character, S. Augustine In Iohannis evangelium tractatus 5, 15 :CCL 36, 50: "Qui vero fuerit superbus minister, cum zabulo computatur ; sed non contaminatur donum Christi, quod per illum fluit purum, quod per illuim transit liquidum venit ad fertilem terram. ...Spiritalis enim virtus sacramenti ita est ut lux : et ab illunminiandis pura excipitur, et si per innumndos transeat non inquinatur.
About the unity between holiness and the life of the priest, cf. S. Peter Crisologus, Serm CVIII: PL 52, 500 501 " Regarding sacrifice and the Priesthood of God : do not lose the Divine authority which God has given to you. Revest yourselves with the stole of holiness, bind yourself with the cincture of chastity, be Christ veiled on your head, may the Cross be a rampart in front of you, take upon your chest the sacrament of divine knowledge, may the perfume of prayer always be burning, put on the sword of the spirit, make of your heart an altar and offer your body as a victim to God, Offer the faith in a way which may be punished treacherousness, sacrifice by fasting, because it ends voraciousness, offer in sacrifice your chastity, so that lechery may die, send mercy because it destroys avarice, and may stupidity disappear, so to be able to offer sanctity: in such a way will your body be your host, so that it will not be injured by some dart of sin.
If public opinion under the influence of different cultures can know the fracture of the concepts in such a reality form one time to another, it is evident that the authentic magisterium and the "sensus fidei" of the good faithful recognize only contiunity. They can only discover more of an emphasis under one aspect or another, perhaps because of other contingent causes. and it progresses in a more harmonious continuity. Wherever you find fractures, there you should deduce that it is not the line of the Church.