By: Protodeacon David Kennedy
(Protodeacon Timothy Meadow with trikerion. UGC Eparchy of Great Britian.)
(4) Leo the Great, letter Ominum quidem, 13 Jan. 444. LETTER VI. To Anastasius, bishop of Thessalonica.
Leo to his beloved brother Anastasius.
I. He is pleased to have been consulted by the bishops of Illyricum on important questions.
The brotherly love of our colleagues makes us read with grateful mind the letters of all priests; for in them we embrace one another in the spirit as if we were face to face, and by the intercourse of such epistles we are associated in mutual converse. But in this present letter the affection displayed seems to us greater than usual: for it informs us of the state of the churches, and urges us to a vigilant exercise of care by a consideration of our office, so that being placed, as it were, on a watch-tower, according to the will of the Lord, we should both lend our approval to things when they run in accordance with our wishes, and correct, by applying the remedies of compulsion, what we observe gone wrong through any aggression: hoping that abundant fruit will be the result of our sowing the seed, if we do not allow those things to increase which have begun to spring up to the spoiling of the harvest.
II. Following the examples of his predecessors he nominates Anastasius metropolitan of Illyricum.
Now therefore, dear brother, that your request has been made known to us through our son Nicolaus the priest, that you, too, like your predecessors, might receive from us in our turn authority over Illyricum for the observance of the rules, we give our consent and earnestly exhort that no concealment and no negligence may be allowed in the management of the churches situated throughout Illyricum, which we commit to you in our stead, following the precedent of Siricius of blessed remembrance, who then, for the first time, acting on a fixed method, entrusted them to your last predecessor but one, Anysius of holy memory, who had at the time well deserved of the Apostolic See, and was approved by after events: that he might render assistance to the churches situated in that province whom he wished kept up to discipline. Noble precedents must be followed with eagerness that we may show ourselves in all things like those whose privileges we wish to enjoy. We wish you to imitate your last predecessor but one as well as of your immediate predecessor who is known equally with the former to have both deserved and employed this privilege: so that we may rejoice in the progress of the churches which we commit to you in our stead. For as the conduct of matters progresses creditably when committed to one who acts well and carries out skillfully the duties of the priestly position, so it is found to be only a burden to him who, when power is entrusted to him, uses not the moderation that is due.
III. Ordinees must be carefully selected with especial reference to the canons of the church.
And so, dear brother, hold with vigilance the helm entrusted to you, and direct your mind's gaze around on all which you see put in your charge, guarding what will conduce to your reward and resisting those who strive to upset the discipline of the canons. The sanction of God's law must be respected, and the decrees of the canons should be more especially kept. Throughout the provinces committed to thee let such priests be consecrated to the Lord as are commended only by their deserving life and position among the clergy. Permit no licence to personal favour, nor to canvassing, nor to purchased votes. Let the cases of those who are to be ordained be investigated carefully and let them be trained in the discipline of the Church through a considerable period of their life. But if all the requirements of the holy fathers are found in them, and if they have observed all that we read the blessed Apostle Paul to have enjoined on such, viz., that he be the husband of one wife, and that she was a virgin when he married her, as the authority of God’s law requires,[then ordain them]. And this we are extremely anxious should be observed, so as to do away with all place for excuses, lest any one should believe himself able to attain to the priesthood who has taken a wife before he obtained the grace of Christ, and on her decease joined himself to another after baptism. Seeing that the former wife cannot be ignored, nor the previous marriage put out of the reckoning, and that he is as much the father of the children whom he begot by that wife before baptism as he is of those whom he is known to have begotten by the second after baptism. For as sins and things which are known to be unlawful are washed away in the font of baptism, so what are allowed or lawful are not done away.
IV. The metropolitans must not ordain hastily nor without consulting their primate.
Let no one be ordained a priest throughout these churches inconsiderately; for by this means ripe judgments will be formed about those to be elected, if your scrutiny, brother, is dreaded. But let any bishop who, contrary to our command, is ordained by his metropolitan without your knowledge, know that he has no assured position with us, and that those who have taken on themselves so to do must render an account of their presumption. But as to each metropolitan is committed such power that he has the right of ordaining in his province, so we wish those metropolitans to be ordained, but not without ripe and well-considered judgment. For although it is seemly that all who are consecrated priests should be approved and well-pleasing to God, yet we wish those to have peculiar excellence whom we know are going to preside over the fellow-priests who are assigned to them. And we admonish you, beloved, to see to this the more diligently and carefully, that you may be proved to keep that precept of the Apostles which runs, "lay hands suddenly on no man."
V. Points which cannot be settled at the provincial synod are to be referred to Rome.
Any of the brethren who has been summoned to a synod should attend and not deny himself to the holy congregation: for there especially he should know that what will conduce to the good discipline of the church must be settled. For all faults will be better avoided if more frequent conferences take place between the priests of the Lord, and intimate association is the greatest help alike to improvement and to brotherly love. There, if any questions arise, under the Lord’s guidance they will be able to be determined, so that no bad feeling remains, and only a firmer love exists among the brethren. But if any more important questions spring up, such as cannot be settled there under your presidency, brother, send your report and consult us, so that we may write back under the revelation of the Lord, of whose mercy it is that we can do ought, because He has breathed favourably upon us: that by our decision we may vindicate our right of cognizance in accordance with old-established tradition and the respect that is due to the Apostolic See: for as we wish you to exercise your authority in our stead, so we reserve to ourselves points which cannot be decided on the spot and persons who have made appeal to us.
VI. Priests and deacons may not be ordained on weekdays any more than bishops.
You shall take order that this letter reach the knowledge of all the brethren, so that no one hereafter find an opportunity to excuse himself through ignorance in observing these things which we command. We have directed our letter of admonition to the metropolitans themselves also of the several provinces, that they may know that they must obey the Apostolic injunctions, and that they obey us in beginning to obey you, brother, our delegate according to what we have written. We hear, indeed, and we cannot pass it over in silence, that only bishops are ordained by certain brethren on Sundays only; but presbyters and deacons, whose consecration should be equally solemn, receive the dignity of the priestly office indiscriminately on any day, which is a reprehensible practice contrary to the canons and tradition of the fathers, since the custom ought by all means to be kept by those who have received it with respect to all the sacred orders: so that after a proper lapse of time he who is to be ordained a priest or deacon may be advanced through all the ranks of the clerical office, and thus a man may have time to learn that of which he himself also is one day to be a teacher.
Dated the 12th of January, in the consulship of Theodosius (18th time) and Albinus(444).
(Please note the discrepancy in the dating of the letter by one day.)
Pope Leo’s letter dated January 13, 444 covers a range of questions that he has been consulted upon by the bishops of Illyricum. He begins by establishing his authority on the basis of his office. He stresses that conduct in pastoral matters must be based on precedence. Those that are to be ordained must be properly trained and their lives are to conform to the canonical requirements; such being founded on the teachings of the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy. He exhorts to “lay hands suddenly on no man.” And where matters cannot be settled on the provincial level then they are to be referred to Rome. By this point he stresses a collegial understanding of authority in the Church, where Rome is the court of last resort.
After emphasizing that bishops are to be ordained only on a Sunday so likewise should presbyters and deacons be ordained on a Sunday. Why? This is because Sunday is the day on which the whole Church, i.e. the Catholic Church assembles. It is unlike the weekdays, not only because it is the day of the Lord’s resurrection, it is the eighth day, the day of the eschaton, the day of the Kingdom, and even more importantly it is the day on which the whole Church assembles. Ordination is not for the sake of the ordinee but for the sake of the whole Church.
I would like to draw attention to these words of St. Leo the Great, presbyters and deacons, whose consecration should be equally solemn, receive the dignity of the priestly office… Yet we read in Lumen Gentium 29. the following, [a]t a lower degree of the hierarchy stand the deacons, on whom hands are imposed “not for the priesthood, but for the ministry”. (The quote is found in Constitutiones Ecclesiae Aegyptiacae, III, 2: ed. Funk, Didascalia, II, p.103. Statuta Ecclesiae Antiqua, 37-41: Msi 3, 954) Current teaching according to the Code of Canon Law does not seem to see the diaconate as part of the priestly office, [t]hose who are constituted in the order of the episcopate or the presbyterate receive the mission and capacity to act in the person of Christ the Head, whereas deacons are empowered to serve the People of God in the ministries of the liturgy, the word and charity. (Pope Benedict XVI. Omnium in Mentem. 26 Oct. 2009.) This was a recent change to Can. 2009 of the Codex Iuris Canonici. Is there a lack of coherence found here? The well-known Orthodox theologian, Archdeacon John Chryssavgis in Remembering and Reclaiming Diakonia: The Diaconate Yesterday and Today (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press. 2009. p.11) appears to be much closer to Pope Leo’s thinking when he writes, [s]o unless we consider the priestly ministry as historically originating and organically developing form the diaconal state or degree, we run the risk of falling either into the Scylla of “despotism” or else the Charybdis of “clericalism.” While the essential and central place of the bishop ought always to be retained, in accordance with the theology and practice of the early Church, it is also important to reclaim the unique significance of each of the three priestly degrees, again and always in accordance with the teaching and practice of the Apostolic Church.
In The Office for the Setting-Apart of a Reader and a Cantor found in the Archieratikon of the Byzantine Rite, the bishop exhorts the one who has just be set apart with the following words: Child, the first degree of the priesthood is that of reader… When liturgy is no longer seen, understood and lived as theologia prima it is easily possible to create a philosophical theology that does not readily cohere with the liturgical tradition.
We should also note these words of St. Leo, . . . so that after a proper lapse of time he who is to be ordained a priest or deacon may be advanced through all the ranks of the clerical office, and thus a man may have time to learn that of which he himself also is one day to be a teacher. The training of those selected for ministry at the time of this blessed pope was so unlikely the methods used today. In the pre-Nicene Church generally ordination was direct, i.e. if one was chosen to be a presbyter, one was directly ordained to that order without first proceeding through ‘minor’ orders/ministries and the diaconate before ordination to the presbyterate. If we refer to 1 Timothy we can see that a candidate was chosen based on how one lived one’s life in Christ. During the 4th century with a great influx of converts and the establishment of the hierarchy by the state as quasi civil servants, hierarchical positions in the Church also became positions of secular power that were coveted. The response to this was a training ‘program’ to safeguard the interests of the Church from those who sought secular power for their own ends via the Church. The Church took over from the secular civil service and governmental structures of the Roman Empire what was known as the cursus honorum. Using this method it became customary for a candidate to proceed through each order of the hierarchy. Thus, a candidate for the presbyterate would be a reader/cantor, subdeacon and deacon before ordination to the presbyterate. The idea was that the candidate would spend sufficient time in each order as a time of training, so that he would develop and be prepared to succeed to the next rank. This would also allow the bishop to scrutinize the candidate and hopefully weed out the ambitious power seekers. The fault with this method however, is that while there were reasonable interstices between ordinations, these time periods were often disregarded. This led to the reception of orders primarily to fulfill canonical requirements. This practice disassociates orders from a real and cohere practice of the orders. It makes the order an end in itself rather than a ministry for the building up of Christ’s Body. For a detailed history of the cursus honorum refer to John St H. Gibaut, The Cursus Honorum: A Study of the Origins and Evolution of Sequential Ordination( New York: Peter Lang. 2000) and Sequential or Direct Ordination? (Cambridge: Grove Books. 2003). James M. Barnett in The Diaconate: A full and Equal Order (Harrisburg PA: Trinity Press. 1995. p. 104.) writes, [t]he decline of the diaconate springs more from the development of the idea of ‘cursus honorum’ than from any other single factor. This of course needs to be explored in depth to ascertain if this claim is true. It is likely at the route that leads to the question often posed to young deacons: When are you going to be ordained? And it certainly does not help the Church to achieve and maintain a real and cohere practice of orders.
Let us keep in mind that we need to answer how best to
1. educate candidates
2. train candidates
3. assist in the spiritual development of candidates.