AND ORDAINED MINISTRY
165. Part 2 of this study dealt with the apostolicity of the whole church and discussed the "elements"
which, by the power of the Holy Spirit, contribute to building up the church "upon the foundation of the
apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone" (Eph 2:20). Among these
elements are the Holy Scriptures, the communication of God's word in proclamation, baptism, and the
Lord's Supper, the office of the keys, catechesis as transmission of the apostolic tradition, the Creeds,
the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. These elements are institutions and enactments of
the communication of the word of God in which the content of the apostolic gospel becomes present
to bring salvation to human beings. In doing so, they play a part in maintaining the apostolicity of the
church as a whole. The apostolicity of the church is bound up with a multitude of such elements, which
are of course present in our churches in different configurations.
166. Because these elements involve institutions and enactments of the communication of the word of
God, human beings are an essential factor in them. There is no testimony without a witness, no
without a preacher, no administration of the sacraments without a minister, but also no testimony and
no sermon without people who listen, no celebration of the sacraments without people who receive
them. That having been said, the problem arises about how human beings take part in the
communication of the word of God in such a way that the church is maintained in continuity with the
167. With respect to human beings as hearers and recipients of the gospel, we declare together with
the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification: "Through Christ alone are we justified, when we
receive this salvation in faith. Faith is itself God's gift through the Holy Spirit, who works through Word
and Sacrament in the community of believers."22 With respect to human beings as co-workers with
God in the communication of the gospel, all who have been baptized and believe are called to
collaborate in the transmission of the gospel, by virtue of their sharing in the priesthood of Christ. At
the same time, the church also has its ordained ministry to which some individuals are specially called.
Both Catholics and Lutherans have to clarify the relation between the universal or common priesthood
of all the baptized and the special ministry conferred by ordination. The answer to this question
depends on the configuration of the above-mentioned elements, and then influences this
configuration. The elements themselves are not independent of their particular configuration, as one
sees in the relationship between ministerial office and the eucharist. So the ministry, in both its
doctrinal understanding and its institutional organization, is of great significance for the apostolicity of
168. A response concerning the relation between the universal priesthood of all baptized and the
ordained ministry goes along with the answer to a further problem which arises here, namely, the
question of a differentiation within the special ministry. This involves primarily the relation between the
office of pastor or presbyter and that of bishop. The course of church history has seen this relation
defined in different ways and it is understood differently by the Roman Catholic Church and the
Lutheran churches. Thus these offices have a different structure in the two bodies, which affects both
doctrinal understanding and church organization. For both Catholics and Lutherans the special
ministry is a special service given to the apostolic gospel and thus to the apostolicity of the church.
The ecumenical issue bound up with the problem of the different ways of structuring the special
ministry is this: Are a specific structure of the pastoral office and one specific structure of the episcopal
office, as well as a specific form of embedding the latter into a larger college of office-holders,
essential to the authentic and legitimate service of the apostolic gospel? Can the one office of ministry
manifest itself in different structures? What belongs to its substance and what belongs to structures of
it which are, within certain limits, variable?
169. The search for answers will first be oriented by the New Testament taken in connection with the
Old Testament, with the former being the primary and binding testimony of the Christian faith (Section
3.2, below). But the New Testament shows a variety of ministries and charisms, along with forms and
concepts of ministry which are different while they overlap with one another. With due caution, one can
distinguish lines of development within the New Testament. How this development is discerned and
evaluated is of course not independent of how one assesses the later historical development of the
ministry. The Early Church's structure of the threefold ministry is not attested as such in the New
Testament, but it did emerge by the further development of offices referred to in the New Testament
which were then brought together into a particular configuration. The development of the office of
ministry in the Early Church is a specific form of the reception of New Testament testimony to
ministries and charisms which were effective in the church of the apostles.
170. This Part will then sketch the historical development of ecclesial ministry in the Early Church and
in the Middle Ages. This forms a part of the shared history of both the Catholic and Lutheran churches
and can be encompassed in a joint description (Section 3.3, below). For both churches it is of great
significance that this development led at such an early stage and with such lasting effect to a
distinction between the office of presbyter and the office of bishop. It is possible to discern the reasons
and motivational impulses for this distinction and to discover the inner logic of this development. To be
sure, theological assessments of the normativity of this development diverge from one another, above
all because the Reformers arrived at the judgment that the church of their time had in many respects
become unfaithful to the apostolic gospel of God's grace, and because they saw this expressed in an
understanding of the pastoral office focused on offering the sacrifice of the mass. On their side,
bishops who had been convinced by their theologians of the errors of the Reformers refused to ordain
Lutheran theologians. Thus Lutheran congregations which wanted reform-minded pastors were faced
with the choice of either renouncing the ordination of their pastors by bishops or abandoning their
conviction about justification by grace alone and by faith alone. At that point a split occurred between
two elementary aspects of apostolic succession. The examination of these questions demands a brief
exposition of the development of the ordained ministry in the Lutheran Reformation and how it has
been understood theologically (Section 3.4.1, below), as well as a sketch of how the Council of Trent
responded to the Reformation concerning ecclesial ministry (3.4.2). This will lead to a presentation of
how the Second Vatican Council both took up and developed what the Council of Trent had taught
(3.5.1), followed by an overview of the current Lutheran doctrine of ministry (3.5.2).
171. Then a concluding section (3.6) will explore convergences on the subject of ministry in apostolic
succession, especially when one considers the circumstances of the divergence on this topic and
takes into account not only the differences but also what Catholics and Lutherans hold in common
regarding the apostolicity of the church and its ministry, including both commonalities which have
never been lost and those which have been rediscovered.
3.2. Biblical Orientation
172. "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may
declare the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." Thus the First
Epistle of Peter (2:9) applies the content of God's address to the people of Israel in Exodus 19:5f, to
the church of Christ. This designates the calling of the whole church to proclaim the word of God in the
midst of the world. The Spirit leads the church on this path, makes it a witness to the gospel, enables it
to read the signs of the time, and opens human hearts to belief in the gospel. Any discussion of
apostolic succession and ordained ministry stands in the context of this fundamental qualification of
173. In First Corinthians Paul writes, with himself in mind but characterizing the office of all the
apostles, "According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation,
and someone else is building upon it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no
one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been; that foundation is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor
3:10f). The house built on this foundation is God's temple made up of the believers forming the
community: "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" (1 Cor
3:16). The Epistle to the Ephesians develops this image further when it says that the church is built
"upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone" (Eph
2:20). The church can therefore only remain true to its mission to "proclaim the mighty acts of God" (1
Pet. 2:9) by constantly renewing its orientation toward the apostolic gospel. At the heart of what is later
called "apostolic succession" is the transmission of the apostolic faith from generation to generation
and across all boundaries of space or culture.
174. The forms in which faith is lived and the gospel is handed on are manifold and multiform. A
central place of shared confession is worship, especially baptism and the eucharist. Catechesis plays
a decisive role, both in leading to baptism and in deepening faith (Heb 6:1f.). Theological critique and
reflection are indispensable for understanding, defending, developing, and giving ever new expression
to the gospel as the word of God (cf. 1 Cor 14). The witness of deeds is part of the witness of words.
Paul expresses this hope for the community at Thessalonica: "May the Lord make you increase and
abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you" (1 Thess 3:12). Because
the gospel of God in Jesus Christ is the universal message of salvation and the effective word of
grace, it has to influence deeply all dimensions of the life of the church and be attested and handed on
in the whole diversity and fullness of the church's life of faith.
175. In 1 Cor 12-14 the Apostle Paul describes in a differentiated way the tasks within the body of
Christ that are given to the manifold ministries and charisms, in order to advance in different ways the
building up of the church (1 Cor 14). The diversity of charisms and ministries corresponds to the
diversity of gifts which all the baptized contribute to the building up of the church (1 Cor 14) and to the
variety of tasks which have to be fulfilled by the church in the world. Decisive for all charisms,
ministries and instrumentalities is that they are given by one God, by one Lord, and by one Spirit, so
that they benefit others and the church as a whole (cf. 1 Cor 12:4-7). The unity of their origin shapes
their unity of orientation and function in building up the church. The charisms find their unity in the
body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-27; Rom 12:4f.). The various gifts of grace make possible different
services which each one should mutually accept and foster (1 Cor 12:28-30). The "way" that outshines
all charisms (1 Cor 12:31) is love (1 Cor 13). Without it, all charisms are nothing (13:1-3). Only in love
are they efficacious in building up the church (1 Cor 14:1-5).
176. The apostles proclaim the gospel of God as ambassadors of Jesus Christ who follow him and
they entreat "on behalf of Christ" (2 Cor 5:20). The work of the apostles is, as Paul says, the "ministry
of reconciliation", insofar as God calls to reconciliation through the apostles (2 Cor 5:18). The
preaching of the Apostle Paul may appear feeble and lacking in wisdom, but precisely by this it calls
forth a faith relying wholly on God's power (1 Cor 2:1-4). Paul sees himself as a servant of Christ and
"steward of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor 4:1f.). The ministry of the apostles is invested with "authority"
(2 Cor 13:10) as they proclaim Jesus Christ to build up the church. The apostles however bear the
treasure of the gospel "in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs
to God and does not come from us" (2 Cor 4:7). Because it is true of Jesus Christ that "he was
crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God" (2 Cor 13:4), therefore the apostle says,
"Whenever I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor 12:10).
177. The apostolate should serve the expansion of the church to the ends of the earth and last until
the end of time (Mt 28:20; cf. Acts 1:8). For this, the proclamation of the gospel, the administration of
the sacraments, mission and catechesis, the leadership of congregations, and the fostering and
coordinating of charisms must be undertaken ever anew. That this may occur requires a gift of the
Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12-14; cf. Eph 4). In First Corinthians Paul strives to bring the charisms to support
each other and collaborate one with the other (cf. 1 Cor 12:4-31), and he further reminds the
Corinthians that "God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers,"
before he lists at length the different gifts (1 Cor 12:28ff.). Of course the apostles must also prepare
the congregations to follow the path of faith. According to Acts 14:23, Paul and Barnabas on their first
missionary journey appointed presbyters in every congregation. The letters of Paul show that he had
contact in each congregation with those who bore responsibilities, for example, for making his words
known (1 Thess 5:27), for taking over the diaconate as Phoebe did in Corinth or Cenchrea (Rom
16:1), or like Stephanas, the first fruit of Achaia, who put himself and his whole household at the
service of the saints and deserved being recognized for this (1 Cor 16:13-17). The Epistle to the
Philippians names "bishops and deacons" already in the opening address (Phil 1:1). As depicted in
Part 1, Paul's co-workers, particularly Timothy and Titus, fulfill a particularly important task. Paul
specifically demands that those who bear responsibility be acknowledged (1 Thess 5:12f; 1 Cor 16:16)
and that his co-workers be received warmly (Rom 16:1) and be supported to the extent this is possible
(1 Cor 16:10; 2 Cor 8:23f).
178. For the sake of the succession in faith, various New Testament writings speak of ecclesial
ministries which serve the orientation toward the apostolic origins. The Epistle to the Ephesians names
"evangelists, pastors, and teachers" (4:11); the Pastoral Epistles emphasize true doctrine through the
bishop or overseer (episkopos); First Peter speaks of the pastoral ministry of the presbyters (5:1- 11);
and Hebrews refers to the "leaders" (13:7,17,24). In Acts 20:17- 38, Paul admonishes the presbyters
of Ephesus to lead as overseers (episkopoi) the church as God's flock and to maintain "the word of his
grace" (20:32) even amid struggles over the true faith. According to Ephesians it is the same Spirit
who raised up the apostles and prophets who also gives the "evangelists, pastors, and teachers," who
are to continue building the church upon the foundation of the apostles (4:11). In the name of Paul the
Pastoral Epistles demand that Timothy be acknowledged (1 Tim 4:6ff) in the ministry assigned to him
by the apostle (2 Tim 4:5) because of the "grace" accorded to him (2 Tim 2:1). The presbyters who
"rule well" in the community are to be given due honor (1 Tim 5:17). Similar admonitions are found in
the Epistle to the Hebrews (13:17) and in First Peter (5:5). In Ephesians the ministry of the "pastors,
evangelists, and teachers" (Eph 4:11) has the goal that "all of us come to the unity of the faith and of
the knowledge of the Son of God" (Eph 4:13). According to First Peter the presbyters who work as
pastors are admonished, "Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock" (1 Pet
179. The pneumatological perspective throws light on the relation between the fundamental ministry of
the apostles in laying in local churches the foundation "which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor
3:11) and the work of building on this foundation by those exercising the various offices of ministry.
The apostolate is differentiated from these offices insofar as Christ has made the former foundational
for the church, while it is incumbent upon the ecclesial ministry, in publicly proclaiming the gospel in
word and deed, to acknowledge and show to its best advantage this historically and theologically
unique apostolic ministry of laying the foundation once and for all time.
180. The terminology regarding overseers and presbyters varies, but their spheres of activity seem to
overlap to a large extent. One important responsibility is the leadership of the church in one place. In
both Acts and the Pastoral Epistles it is the Spirit of God who inspires the apostles to institute those
offices or ministries and, with the support of the whole church, to entrust them to individual Christians.
Correspondingly the same Spirit enables these Christians to exercise their ministry for the church with
the authority which accords with the gospel (Eph 4:7ff). Especially in the Pastoral Epistles, correct
doctrine is an essential element in directing the communities, both by warding off false teaching and
by constructive accounts of the content of the message of salvation. Disputes regarding the truth of
the gospel cannot be excluded even among the apostles, prophets, teachers, and overseers, but must
be conducted in the same Spirit of truth which keeps the whole church faithful to the gospel.
181. In the Pastoral Epistles, the laying on of hands brings about induction or ordination into the
ecclesial office of the ministry. It is closely linked with the transmission of correct doctrine. Even the
induction of the Seven by the Twelve takes place according to Acts 6:6 by the laying on of hands. In
the Pastorals God communicates through the laying on of hands a "charism" which is then "in" those
on whom hands were laid (1 Tim 4:14 cf. 2 Tim 1:6). This is a charism of ministry following the
example of the Apostle Paul (1 Tim 1:18). The laying on of hands conveys "a spirit of power and of
love and of self-discipline" (2 Tim 1:7). If one wishes to speak of a "grace of office" or a "charism of
office," then that would refer to the grace or gift of grace that enabled Timothy and Titus to fulfil the
commission given to them by Paul, namely, to follow his example in keeping the church in the truth of
the gospel (cf. 1 Tim 1:16ff. and 2 Tim 1:6ff. in its context).
182. Timothy is told, "Do not lay hands on anyone hastily" (1 Tim 5:22), possibly in reference to the
installation of presbyters or overseers. The evidence in these letters does not describe a unified rite,
for according to 1 Tim 4:14 it was the presbyters who laid hands on Timothy, while according to 2 Tim
1:6 it was the apostle. The relationship between the two rites is not fully clear. Exegesis has given
divergent answers to the question of whether it is permissible in view of 1 Tim 5:22 to speak of a
"chain" of laying on of hands. Protestant theology places greater emphasis on the open-ended and
diverse nature of biblical witness. When Catholic theology views the succession of the laying on of
hands as a sign of connection with Christ, of continuity of gospel proclamation effected by the Spirit,
and of the unity of the church over time, it bases itself on the Pastoral Epistles. But in this it does not
isolate the laying on of hands from the life of the church, but perceives it as an essential form by which
the successio apostolica, which is necessary for the sake of successio fidei, becomes efficacious
through the power of the Spirit. By the practice of ordination, understood from the New Testament, the
church does not set itself up as lord over the gospel but submits to it. The authority accorded to the
ecclesial office of ministry through the Spirit serves the freedom of all believers in the truth of the
gospel. The laying on of hands is a sign for the whole church that it lives by listening to the gospel as a
word that she does not enunciate to herself, but which is spoken to her by God through human beings
in a human manner.
183. Paul challenges his congregations to imitate his example as he imitates that of Christ (1 Cor 4:16,
11:1; Phil 3:17, 4:9; 1 Thess 1:6). According to 2 Tim 1:13, Timothy should take the "sound teaching",
which he heard from Paul as his example, in order to remain constant "in the faith and love that are in
Christ Jesus". This is presupposed when 2 Tim 3:10 speaks of Timothy having observed "my
teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my
persecutions and sufferings" (cf. also 1 Tim 4:6). In this sense succession does not mean simply the
continuation of Paul's work but the ongoing orientation toward the example of the apostle who
according to 1 Tim 1:16 is in turn the example for all, insofar as he has "received mercy." In the New
Testament "apostolic succession" takes place within the horizon of following Jesus Christ. It unites all
Christians, including the apostles, with their Lord and with one another. The disciples of Jesus knew
that they were called to be followers even to the cross (Mark 8:34- 38 par.), so that they would have
communion with Christ even in his mission entailing suffering. Despite their failures they are called
once more to discipleship by Jesus, who will go ahead of them to Galilee (Mark 14:28; 16:7; cf.
10:32ff.). In speaking of "apostolic succession" regarding the ecclesial office of ministry, one has to
include how those sharing in this have to orient themselves to the apostles - to their discipleship, their
proclamation, their practice and their ministry - and allow themselves to be molded by this.
Understood in this way, "apostolic succession" maintains the uniqueness proper to the ministry of the
apostles while mediating it, within the horizon of the following of Jesus Christ, to an ongoing ministry
for building up the church on the foundation of Jesus Christ which the apostles once laid.
3.3. Ordained Ministry in the Early Church and the Middle Ages
184. Some New Testament writings, and in particular the Pastoral Epistles, express the conviction that
the apostles provided for the offices of leadership in the congregations which they founded, and a
close connection is established between the office of leadership and the transmission of the "teaching"
of the apostles, the "treasure entrusted" to the disciples of the apostles (cf. 2 Tim 1:13f.). But only with
the First Letter of Clement ( A.D. 96) does the concept of a succession of the apostles appear,
understood as a single line of commission from God through Christ to the apostles and "their first-fruits" whom, "after prior examination in the spirit" they "appointed . . . to be bishops and deacons of
those who should afterwards believe." Shortly after, we read: "Our apostles also knew through the
Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate (peri tou
onomatos tes episkopes). For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect
foreknowledge of this, they appointed those already mentioned and afterwards gave instructions, that
when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry."23 Along
with bishops, mention is made of instituted and appointed presbyters in nos. 44,5, 47,6, 54,2, and
57,1, since disregard for them had caused the letter to the church in Corinth to be written.
185. In the transitional phase from the apostolic to the post-apostolic period the ministerial structure
began to evolve which provides for a bishop as overseer of the local church, with a college of
presbyters and deacons at his side, and this gradually prevailed as the only model. The letters of
Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 110) give the first unambiguous testimony to the existence of a single bishop
surrounded by a college of presbyters and deacons. He speaks of the presbyterate as the
independent hierarchical level between bishop and deacon. He frequently mentions the triad of the
bishop (always in the singular), the presbyterium or the presbyters, and the deacons. This three-fold
hierarchy is a reflection of the heavenly one, with God the Father, Christ and the apostles.24 Nothing
that concerns the church can be done without the bishop: "Let that be deemed a proper eucharist
which is administered either by the bishop or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop
shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ may be, there is the
Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast."25
186. The consecration and ordination formulae found in the Traditio apostolica of Hippolytus of Rome
(ca. 215) for the ordination of the bishop, presbyters and deacons show clearly that by the beginning of
the third century this structure of ministry was quite firmly established. During the Sunday assembly of
the congregation and the presbyterium, the new bishop who has been elected and confirmed by all,
receives the laying on of hands from all the bishops who are present. The presbyterium does not take
part in this laying- on of hands. All keep silent and pray in their hearts for the Holy Spirit to descend.
One of the bishops present, at the request of all, lays his hands on the ordinand and says the
consecration prayer. This is followed by the celebration of the eucharist. At the ordination of a
presbyter the bishop lays on hands and says the consecration prayer, while the priests who are
present also touch the ordinand, i.e. also lay on their hands. At the ordination of a deacon, only the
bishop lays his hands on the ordinand and says the consecration prayer. He is not ordained as a
priest, but "for service."26 According to the order enshrined in the Traditio apostolica, the ordained
ministry since the beginning of the third century consisted of bishop, presbyter and deacon.
187. Because of the controversial questions which emerged in the second century concerning the
authentic content of the gospel message, emphasis fell on the link between the word and the person
of the witness to such an extent that the continuity of bishops in one local church became the criterion
for recognizing the continuity of the public mediation of apostolic teaching. Irenaeus wrote in this
context about "the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; as we are in a
position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the churches and to
demonstrate the succession of these men to our own time."27 According to Irenaeus one must seek
true teaching in the tradition which the bishops and the presbyters instituted by them received from the
apostles, and which they in their turn passed on to their successors down to the present time. In third
century North Africa, Tertullian and Cyprian took up the concept of the apostolic tradition
corresponding to the succession of bishops, and this later became the teaching of the Fathers of the
fourth and fifth centuries.
188. The process leading to the development of a unified ministerial structure with the episcopate at
its head reflects an ongoing task by which, in very difficult situations, a binding witness has to be made
to preserve the unity of the church and protect the integrity of the faith. Especially in the battle against
gnosticism, the personal criterion of succession among the witnesses of apostolic tradition evolved
alongside the substantive criterion of faithfulness to the biblical testimony and to the regula fidei, and
succession continued to grow in importance. Within the ecclesial process of transmitting the gospel,
which is borne by all members of the congregation in forms which encompass the totality of the
Christian witness, a distinct level became discernible, which is the level of those who hold the ministry
of leadership and oversight and who are regarded as the criterion for orientation in conflict situations.
189. Around this central function of the episcopate and the ordained ministry, which serves the
continuity of apostolic proclamation, several functions were grouped which concern oversight over the
whole of church life and have the purpose of safeguarding unity. The role and authority which the
bishops gradually assumed within the church depended on the close link between the oversight of the
inviolate nature of the apostolic tradition and the ministry of the unity of the church. For the unity of the
church there can be no other criterion than the apostolic gospel which is accepted in faith, celebrated
in the sacraments, and attested through the word and works of love.
190. In the course of the fourth century, a second step of great importance was taken regarding the
structuring of the episcopate and presbyterate. Following the spread of Christianity beyond the urban
areas, new congregations were formed and entrusted to the pastoral care of the presbyters. While
initially they had formed a college which assisted the bishop, they were now entrusted with the tasks of
administering baptism and presiding at the celebration of the eucharist, which means that they
assumed functions which had previously been the typical functions of the bishop. When the office of
presbyter assumed "episcopal" characteristics, the office of bishop lost its distinctive feature of a
ministry presiding over congregations present in one particular place, and became an office with a
regional character. This ministry in which the administrative and juridical functions now predominated
gave expression to the unity between the various eucharistic congregations. It is striking that, during
this transitional period in the development of the life of the church and of the structures of its mission,
the number of bishops did not increase, which would have been in keeping with the principle which
provided for a bishop for every local church, but instead a further "specialization" of the ministries of
bishop and presbyter evolved. Both ministries, in different ways and on different levels, were in the
service of the local church while remaining closely linked with one another, as is demonstrated by the
principle of the dependence of the presbyter on the bishop.
191. If one were to describe the ecclesiology of the Early Church, as it evolved in the life and
consciousness of the church itself, the concept of communion (koinonia) comes to mind. Every
ecclesial community is a koinonia. More precisely, one could describe it as the communio of faith and
of the sacraments which the bishop serves, above all in the celebration of the eucharist and in
proclaiming the faith which he teaches and protects, but also by his care for preserving the unity of the
whole church. Every church which is a koinonia is also in communion with the other churches and
therefore the bishop is understood not only as an individual but as one in communion with the other
bishops. This collegial structure of the episcopate becomes very clear in the ordination of a bishop, as
laid down for instance in Canon 4 of the Council of Nicaea, which states that every bishop should "at
best" be ordained by all the bishops of the province, and in cases of emergency only at least three
bishops should gather for the ordination. The confirmation of the process for each province however is
the duty of the Metropolitan.30 Canon 6 furthermore forbids that a bishop should be instituted without
the agreement of the Metropolitan and mentions the precedence of Alexandria, Rome and Antioch.
Canon 7 ascribes a "precedence of honor" to Jerusalem, the "mother of all churches."31 Constantinople
is added to this list of precedence as the "new Rome" following the Council of Constantinople (381).32The Synods and Councils themselves testify to the koinonia of the churches and their bishops. This
laid the foundation for a structure which extended beyond the local churches, and which evolved into
church provinces and patriarchates. For the episcopal office this means that it is exercised not only in
personal contact with the congregation (personal dimension), in which it is essentially rooted
(communal dimension), but also requires communion with the other bishops (collegial dimension).
192. The reflections on the ordained ministry which developed in the Middle Ages, particularly by Peter
Lombard, largely follow the thought of Jerome in his emphasis on the equality between presbyters and
bishops, while taking account of the fact that the theological definition of the ministry originated in
presidency at the eucharist. Subsequently the priestly ministry came to predominate as the focal point
for the understanding of the ministry of the church. This corresponded to a difficulty in the theology of
the episcopate, concerning whether or not its special status was due to the sacrament of ordination.
But the tendency prevailed to define the episcopate almost exclusively in juridical terms.
193. However, the opposite tendencies also existed, most clearly in Thomas Aquinas, who describes
the difference between priest and bishop regarding authority - with reference to the church as the
corpus Christi mysticum - in the sense of a higher episcopal authority, which is an "apostolic
priesthood". The bishop receives this spiritual authority through consecration.33 Thomas however
embeds this authority for building up the church as the body of Christ in his concept of the mediation of
grace and salvation by Christ, the head of the church, and in the idea of the instrumental causality of
Christ's humanity. His theology of grace led him to see Christ above all as the one who mediates
grace, and on the basis of his theology of the lex nova he can even consign institutional matters to the
second rank of ecclesiology.
3.4. The Ordained Ministry in the Lutheran Reformation and the Council of Trent
3.4.1. The Lutheran Reformation
194. In the area of the 16th century Lutheran Reformation, the ministerial office developed amid a
complex set of problems. There were differing and sometimes contradictory theological interpretations
of the ministry, for example, giving rise to criticism of understanding ministry from offering the
sacrifice of the mass. Differing, sometimes contradictory, concepts of grace and justification prompted
the bishops to refuse to ordain Lutheran theologians. Among non-theological factors, the constitution
of the German Empire included the institution of prince-bishops, whose mingling of secular and
spiritual power evoked sharp criticism from the Reformers. There was an interplay of action and
reaction, theological criticism and counter-criticism, and institutional measures in church and state.
The Reformers wanted to shape the church but had limited means for doing this, while the princes
strove to extend state power over the church. The ministry and its theological understanding evolved
within this tangle of extremely heterogeneous factors. Only part of this complex can be discussed in
the following sections.
195. For the Lutheran Reformation, ministry and ordination are among the visible signs of the church,
especially in their relation of service to preaching and the sacraments, as Luther states in On the
Councils and the Church. "Fifth, the church is recognized externally by the fact that it consecrates or
calls ministers, or has offices that it is to administer. There must be bishops, pastors, or preachers,
who publicly and privately give, administer, and use the aforementioned four things or holy
possessions [the word of God, the sacraments of baptism and the supper, the public use of the keys]
on behalf of and in the name of the church, or rather by reason of their institution by Christ. ...
Wherever you see this done, be assured that God's people, the holy Christian people, is present."34
The Priesthood of All the Baptized
196. According to Luther, "priest", in the original and strict sense of the word, is Christ alone.
Christians are priests only by sharing in Christ in faith, according to the logic of the "happy exchange":
"Now just as Christ by his birthright obtained these two prerogatives, so he imparts them to and shares
them with everyone who believes in him according to the law of the above-mentioned marriage,
according to which the wife owns whatever belongs to the husband. Hence all of us who believe in
Christ are priests and kings in Christ, as 1 Pet 2:9 says: 'You are a royal priesthood and a priestly
kingdom.'"35 Christians become priests not through ordination but through a new birth, the spiritual
birth of baptism. They are not made priests, they are born priests.36 "Accordingly we are all
consecrated as priests through baptism."37
197. The priesthood of each baptized person, as sharing in the priesthood of Christ, is according to
Luther lived out or realized in priestly action, when a person offers sacrifice to God on behalf of all and
teaches them about God, so as to bring their concerns before God and God's concerns to them.38 The
first occurs in prayer and dedication to God, especially in suffering, the second in proclaiming the
gospel. Every Christian prays in Christ and so comes before God.
198. Since the priesthood of all the baptized has its foundation in baptism and is lived out in faith in
Christ's promise, therefore before God all Christians are equal, that is, equal as priests (sacerdotes).
The difference between a pastor and a Christian who is not a pastor is a difference of office.
Regarding their state of grace and in view of salvation, there is no difference between those who are
ordained and those who are not ordained. "All Christians are truly of the spiritual estate. And there is
no difference among them, except that of office."39 Christians, as Christians, are not office-holders. "It
is true that all Christians are priests, but not all are pastors. To be a pastor one must not only be a
Christian and a priest but must have an office and a field of work committed to him. The call and
command make pastors and preachers."40
199. The doctrine of the universal priesthood removed the theological foundation of the social and
legal division of Christendom into clergy and laity, based on Gratian's dictum, "Christians are of two
kinds".41 together with the medieval concept of a hierarchy of estates in which the spiritual estate
ranked above the secular.
The Relation between the Priesthood of All the Baptized and the Ordained Ministry
200. Luther as a rule calls the pastor minister. This shows the general trend of his understanding of
the pastorate: while in his time the sacrament of ordination did not of itself place the ordained in the
service of a congregation, according to Luther ecclesial office has to be an office of ministry
(ministerium), namely that of publicly proclaiming the gospel in word and sacrament in the
congregation. Now if every baptized Christian has certain duties toward God and humankind as a
priest, in prayer and proclamation of the gospel, then the question arises about the basis and
understanding of the special ecclesial ministry, since the proclamation of the gospel is also an
essential element of this ministry. There has been for some time considerable debate on this question.
201. In many passages Luther speaks explicitly of the divine institution of ordained ministry. For
example in To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520): "I want to speak only of the ministry
which God has instituted, the responsibility of which is to minister word and sacrament to a
congregation, among whom they reside."42 And: "I hope, indeed, that believers, those who want to be
called Christians, know very well that the spiritual estate has been established and instituted by God,
not with gold or silver but with the precious blood and bitter death of his only Son, our Lord Jesus
Christ. From his wounds indeed flow the sacraments, as they used to depict this on broadsides. He
paid dearly that men might everywhere have this office of preaching, baptizing, loosing, binding, giving
the sacrament, comforting, warning, and exhorting with God's word, and whatever else belongs to the
pastoral office. . . . I am not thinking, however, of the spiritual estate as we know it today in the
monastic houses and foundations. . . . The estate I am thinking of is rather one which has the office of
preaching and the service of the word and sacraments and which imparts the Spirit and salvation."43
The Lutheran confessional writings state unequivocally: "The ministry of the word has the command
of God and has magnificent promises," and "The church has the mandate to appoint ministers."44
202. Luther's treatise for the Bohemians, De instituendis ministris Ecclesiae (1523),45 is one of the
texts cited to prove that according to Luther the ordained ministry is derived from the priesthood of all
the baptized. But, in fact, this work does not even discuss the basis of the ministry, for its title refers to
appointing ministers (ministri), not to instituting ministries (ministerii) in the church. What it discusses
is whether appointment to ministerial office is only possible through the act of a bishop, or whether, in
an emergency, as when the Roman bishops refuse to appoint ministers of the word,46 the assembled
congregation can choose from amid its ranks one or several suitable persons and, with prayer and the
laying-on of hands, commend and confirm them to the whole church. Here Luther presupposes, first,
that a church cannot be without God's word, and, second, as the implicit premise, that there can be no
proper proclamation of God's word in the church if there are no special ministers of the divine word
(ministri verbi divini). The alternative which Luther sees here can only be understood in the following
way. If the bishops do not agree to institute any ministers of the word worthy of this name, there are
only two alternatives: either the church will perish because it lacks the word of God, or else the
ministers of the word will be appointed to their office in another way than through episcopal ordination.
Luther conceives the ordained ministry as necessary to the church, and this necessity rests, as other
texts show, on the institution of the office through Christ.
203. For Luther, this office is fundamentally related to the universal priesthood because the precise
task of the ministry is to enable and keep alive the priesthood of all Christians. The reason for this is
that the baptized are priests in Christ alone, but they are in Christ only by faith in the word of God.
Public proclamation and the essentially public administration of the sacraments are required for the
word of God to be present universally to all, to awaken and preserve faith, and for that the spiritual
office is required.
204. Ordained ministry and the priesthood of all the baptized exist therefore in an indissoluble
correlation. The special ministry has its purpose in service to the universal priesthood. Inversely, the
general priesthood of all the baptized bears the fundamental capacity for enabling the ordained
ministry and also the responsibility for appointing to this ministry. As far as the latter is concerned, this
does not contest the bishops' right and duty to ordain ministers of the word of God. Luther argues that,
regarding ordination, the church normally has the capacity to act through the bishops. "Therefore,
when a bishop consecrates it is nothing else than that in the place and stead of the whole community,
. . . he takes and charges him to exercise this power on behalf of others."47 The bishop acts "in the
person" of the whole church. Normally, it is through the bishop that the church is the acting subject in
ordination. But if the bishops do not perform the ordination of evangelical pastors, a church or
congregation which needs a pastor must regain its lost ability to act, through an assembly reaching a
"common agreement of the faithful, those who believe and confess the gospel"48 and appoint a pastor
on that basis.49
205. In this emergency situation, the priesthood of all the baptized is called upon in the following way
regarding the office-holder: baptism represents the fundamental qualification for the office of minister,
and therefore members of the community who are suitable for the ministry, who have been duly
chosen and "confirmed" with prayer and the laying-on of hands before the gathered congregation, are
rightful bishops and priests in this emergency situation, even if ordination by a bishop represents the
normal procedure. Referring to Mt 18,19f, Luther says that in such a case there can be no doubt that
an ordination taking place in this way has been accomplished by God. In the calling and induction into
office it is God who is actually at work.50
206. According to Luther, bishops, pastors and preachers who preach in public and distribute the
sacraments act "in the name of the church, or rather, by reason of their institution by Christ".51 The
church calls the office-holders, and to that extent they act in its name. What they do in their ministry,
however, they do by force of Christ's institution, because the gospel is not the word of believers but
instead the word of Christ. The institution of the office by Christ enables and has the purpose of
making the word of the gospel come to all people as the word of Christ.
The Authority of the Ministry
207. From the perspective of the tradition handed down to Luther, the acts of evangelical ministers
could be considered as insufficient, since the office according to Lutheran thinking does not have any
"indelible character" and its specific power has not been passed on by a bishop who was consecrated
by another bishop. However the following is clear in Lutheran understanding: "Nor does this detract
from the efficacy of the sacraments when they are distributed by the unworthy, because they represent
the person of Christ on account of the call of the church and do not represent their own persons, as
Christ himself testifies 'Whoever listens to you listens to me' (Luke 10:16). When they offer the word of
Christ or the sacraments, they offer them in the stead and place of Christ. The words of Christ teach
us this so that we may not be offended by the unworthiness of ministers."52 More precisely, this is to be
understood as follows.
208. In The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Luther writes about baptism: "Hence we ought to
receive baptism at human hands just as if Christ himself, indeed, God himself, were baptizing us with
his own hands. For it is not man's baptism, but Christ's and God's baptism, which we receive by the
hand of man. Therefore beware of making any distinction in baptism by ascribing the outward part to
man and the inward part to God. Ascribe both to God alone, and look upon the person administering it
as simply the vicarious instrument of God, by which the Lord sitting in heaven thrusts you under the
water with his own hands, and promises you forgiveness of your sins, speaking to you upon earth with
a human voice by the mouth of his minister."53
209. The two aspects belong together, namely, highest esteem for what the pastor does, for his hands
in baptism are God's hands, his voice is God's voice, and low esteem for him as God's "vicarious
instrument". Each determines the other reciprocally, for only if and insofar as the pastor acts purely as
an instrument, vicariously for God, can his action be said to be at the same time God's action. That the
pastor can and must preach, baptize, and administer the Lord's Supper presupposes a mandate from
Christ for these actions and a promise regarding them. That is why the institution of the sacraments is
so important for the Reformers. Only by appealing to Christ's command and in trust in his promise can
a pastor dare to act in the name and in the stead of Christ. That he or she can be called before the
whole congregation in response to Christ's command and promise and thus act in the name of Christ,
presupposes his or her calling and ordination to the office and to its public enactments. The ordained
minister has the right and the duty, through the authority of the command and promise of Christ, to
proclaim the gospel in public and to administer the sacraments. And because the pastor is instituted
as minister of the word of God, the question of his authority is the question of his calling to his ministry
and the question of the authority of the word which he is to serve.
210. In a famous remark at table, Luther rejected the following distinction which he called a
metaphysical one: "Men preach, the Spirit works; the pastor baptizes, absolves, but God cleanses and
forgives. Not in the least! Rather we conclude: God preaches, baptizes, absolves". 54 This does not
blur the distinction between God and man, between divine actions and human actions. Rather he has
in mind an effective unity between the action of the Holy Spirit and the specific act of the pastor, a
unity decisive for the actions of proclamation and administration of the sacraments being efficacious
for human salvation. "Good God! What consolation can a weak conscience receive from a preacher if
it does not believe that these very words are God's consolation, God's word, God's judgment?"55 The
Problematic of the Episcopate at the Time of the Reformation, and the Reaction of the Reformers
211. Regarding the episcopal office, historical factors which the Reformers encountered but had no
power to change played an important role. The bishops and archbishops of the Holy Roman Empire of
the German Nation were at the same time secular princes and as such had a firm place in the
institutions of the Empire. Bishops had seats and votes in the Diet, while three archbishops were even
prince electors, with places among the seven princes who chose the emperor. Careful consideration of
the historical parameters of the episcopal office in the sixteenth century is of great significance for the
Lutheran churches as well as for the Roman Catholic Church: for the former, so that they do not
remain fixated on one specific historical constellation in their position regarding the episcopate; for the
latter, to help in reaching an appropriate assessment of the decisions made by the Reformation
churches regarding their leadership.
212. The combination of heterogeneous tasks in the office of bishop led to conflicts between their
various duties. The secular power was sometimes used for spiritual ends in a questionable way and
vice versa, while the duty of spiritual leadership was neglected. Often, the holders of episcopal office
were unfit for their spiritual duties and they appointed other persons to represent them. The Reformers
severely criticized the intermingling of the two powers in the one person of the bishop, as in Art. 28 of
the Augsburg Confession. They emphasized that "the first and only duty of all bishops is to see that
the people learn about the gospel and love of Christ."56 It seemed to the Reformers that the imperial
bishops neither gave to God what was God's, nor to Caesar, the Emperor, what was Caesar's.
213. More significant and more problematic for the Reformation, however, was the fact that most of
the bishops adhering to the traditional faith did not allow evangelical preaching, but instead put
obstacles in the way of priests and preachers who turned to the Reformation or even persecuted
them, and refused to ordain reform- minded theologians. Melanchthon writes in the Apology to the
Augsburg Confession: "The bishops compel our priests . . . to reject and to condemn the kind of
doctrine that we have confessed. This keeps our priests from acknowledging such bishops. . . . We
have clear consciences on this matter since we know that our confession is true, godly, and catholic.
For this reason, we dare not approve the cruelty of those who persecute this doctrine. We know the
church exists among those who rightly teach the word of God and rightly administer the sacraments."57
As a consequence, a conflict developed for the Reformation between faithfulness to the apostolic
tradition, that is, the gospel, or adherence to the traditional forms of transmission of office and of its
integration into the hierarchically structured community of the church.
The Theological Definition of the Relationship between the Pastorate and the Episcopate
214. As the ministry of proclaiming the gospel in word and sacrament, the office of ministry is
essentially one office, just as the gospel is one, even if for practical reasons specific tasks (e.g.
episkopé) are delegated to individual ministries. Luther relates the office originally to the local
congregation which can in principle assemble at one place for divine worship. The fundamental
principle of his theology, that the Holy Spirit effects faith and salvation through the external word, has
as a consequence the primary identification of church and worshiping congregation. With his
understanding of the congregation assembled for worship as the primary point of reference for the
office, Luther's position is very close to that of the Church Fathers for whom the eucharistic community
was the focus of reflection on the church.
215. Luther refers back to New Testament language (Titus 1:5.7; 1 Tim 3:1-7; Acts 20:17.28) where
episkopos and presbyteros are used interchangeably. For Luther this shows that the ministry is one
but that different terms are used for it. Luther finds the same in the Church Father Jerome who wrote
to the presbyter Evangelus that at the time of the apostles "presbyter" and "overseer" (episkopos)
meant the same. Only later was one from among the group of presbyters chosen and given a superior
position, with the title episkopos, in order to prevent divisions in faith.58 Luther points out that this letter
by Jerome was included in canon law and thus has the approval of the Roman Church.59 Furthermore,
in holding that the original ministry was the presbyterate, Luther is in line with a tradition which was
widespread, if not predominant, during the Middle Ages. He could read in the Sentences of Peter
Lombard, the basic textbook for theological studies in the high and late Middle Ages, that the canons
know of only two sacred ordinations, the diaconate and the presbyterate, because it was said that the
Early Church had only these and we had a command given by the apostle for them alone.60 This
means that within the priestly ordo the bishop has a special office and a particular rank, but the
episcopal office does not constitute an ordo of its own, nor does episcopal consecration convey a
specific sacramental character. This tradition is of great significance for the evaluation by the
Reformers of what they undertook in the question of ordination.
216. Luther often takes his orientation from the situation in the town congregations of the Early
Church, for example when he designates Augustine as the town pastor of Hippo.61 But he also
considers that a regional episcopate is the normal case. In De instituendis ministris, the urban
bishops, i.e. the pastors, can choose from among themselves one or several clerics who will then be
called "archbishops", who are to visit the bishops and churches. The episcopate arises out of the
necessary task of visitation, for overseeing in several congregations the purity of the proclamation of
the gospel which creates faith and the church, along with ordaining office-holders and examining them
as to their suitability for office. Melanchthon writes: "In the church regents are necessary, who examine
and ordain those called to the church's ministries, who preside in church courts, and who exercise a
ministry of oversight over the teaching of the priests. And if there were no bishops, one would have to
217. What is to be preached in the different congregations is not something specific to them, but is the
one gospel. However, the correct preaching of the one gospel everywhere cannot be taken for
granted, because erroneous teaching is always possible and indeed a reality. Therefore a supra-parochial ministry of oversight is not merely optional. Melanchthon continues: "So that there may be
one church sharing in a consensus, God has always spread abroad the same gospel through the
Fathers and the prophets and later through Christ and the apostles. And Christ has instituted one
office that should remain until the end of the world. ... That is, he has preserved the gospel and
intends that, after the apostles, shepherds be called forth in all the churches, that is, those whom he
calls to administer the office of teaching the gospel. Although they differ in gifts, they nevertheless
provide the same service. The unity of the church consists therefore in this association under one
head through the same gospel and the same office. ... But so that everything in the church happens in
an orderly manner according to the rule of Paul, and so that the shepherds would yield to one another
and be concerned for each other and avoid differences of opinion and divisions, a useful order was
added, namely, that out of many presbyters one was chosen as bishop to guide the church by
teaching the gospel, taking care for discipline, and being himself head of the presbyters. . . . These
orders are useful in preserving the unity of the church, if those who are the heads fulfill their office."63
218. According to Lutheran understanding, the special tasks of bishops, beside the preaching of the
gospel, are the following: the examination and ordination of those who are to be called to the ministry
of the word, the visitation of pastors and their congregations, examination of doctrine, the naming and
rejection of heresy, and the implementation of excommunication. Even though in areas of the Lutheran
Reformation in Germany the development of a genuine episcopate was impeded for centuries, in part
by the fact that bishops in Germany occupied secular positions defined by imperial law, reference
must be made to the competent system of superintendents which did arise. Also Melanchthon's
judgment in the Apology should be borne in mind: "We have frequently testified . . . that it is our
greatest desire to retain the order of the church (politia ecclesiastica) and the ranks in the church -
even though they were established by human authority. We know that church discipline in the manner
described by the ancient canons was instituted by the Fathers for a good and useful purpose."64
Ordination and "Apostolic Succession"
219. The Early Church's concept of the apostolic succession was unknown in the Middle Ages even
though ordination practice remained by and large in continuity with the order of the Early Church.
During the Reformation era, the concept of "apostolic succession" appeared first in the work
Enchiridion christianae institutionis (1538) of the Catholic theologian Johannes Gropper, who refers to
Cyprian, Augustine, and especially to Irenaeus in Adversus haereses, Books III and IV. This principal
work of the Bishop of Lyons became known in the West through the edition of Erasmus (1526), while
earlier Peter Lombard and the Decree of Gratian did not know it. Gropper says about 1 Tim 4:14, that
"in order to preserve the unity of the church it is extremely necessary to practice ordination as it had
been instituted by Christ, later practiced by the apostles, and handed down to us in continuous
succession."65 Gropper appeals to Irenaeus when he rejects the opinion that succession in faith is
sufficient. "One must believe only the priests who stand in succession from the apostles and who with
succession in the office of bishop have received the certain charism of truth, according to the will of
220. As early as 1539, in his work, The Church and the Authority of God's Word, Melanchthon rejected
these opinions which tie church "to the orderly succession of bishops, just as empires exist through
the orderly succession of their rulers. But it is different in the church. It is an assembly which is not tied
to an orderly succession but to the word of God."67 Gropper's ideas were to play no constructive role in
the unity colloquy of 1541 at Regensburg.
221. Regarding ordination, which normally is administered by an ordained person, Luther can speak
quite openly about succession as a fact: "God calls in two ways, either by means or without means.
Today he calls all of us into the ministry of the word by a mediated call, that is, one that comes through
means, namely, through man. But the apostles were called immediately by Christ Himself, just as
prophets in the Old Testament had been called by God Himself. Afterwards the apostles called their
disciples, as Paul called Timothy, Titus, etc. These men were called bishops, as Titus 1 says, and the
bishops called their successors down to our own time, and so on to the end of the world. This is a
mediated calling, since it is done by man. Nevertheless, it is divine."68 "Now if the apostles, evangelists,
and prophets are no longer living, others must have replaced them and will replace them until the end
of the world, for the church shall last until the end of the world, and so apostles, evangelists, and
prophets must therefore remain, no matter what their name, to promote God's word and work."69
222. The Reformers' desire to maintain the catholicity and apostolicity of the ministry is very clear from
the available Wittenberg ordination certificates.70 Beginning in 1535 in the Electorate of Saxony and on
orders of the Elector, the examination and ordination of new clergy was undertaken by the Wittenberg
theological faculty. The faculty had the mandate to ordain but the person who actually ordained was
Bugenhagen who, although a member of the faculty, functioned as town pastor of Wittenberg and as
regional bishop. This made it clear that ordination is not an academic but a church matter. Before the
ordination, the faculty examined the competence and doctrinal correctness of the candidate who had
received the call (vocatio) from a congregation. "With particular emphasis repeated reference is made
to the doctrinal agreement between 'our church' and the 'catholic church of Christ'. Luther understood
the latter, appealing to the Apostles' Creed, as the whole Christian church. After 1542 the certificates
reinforce this agreement in one spirit and one voice with the catholic church of Christ. In the same way
reference is made to the condemnation of fanatical opinions by the judgment of the catholic church of
Christ. The same trend is evident when after Summer 1542 an explicit reference is constantly added
that it is according to apostolic teaching (above all, Tit 1:5 and Eph 4:8.11) that the office of teaching
and administration of the sacraments be passed on to the ordinand through public ordination."71
However, the succession in teaching is not understood as something that takes place in isolation from
the human practices of transmitting doctrine. Maintaining doctrine requires persons who pass it on and
it needs human actions in which this occurs and is also examined. The ordination certificates, which
the ordained pastors took with them to their congregations, always state that the doctrine of the
ordinand has been examined.
223. It is also noteworthy that the ordinations did not take place in the individual congregations which
had issued the call but in Wittenberg, which was in total disregard of Bugenhagen's objections. This,
again, was to show that ordination was not simply an installation as pastor but took place as ordination
to ministry in the church as a whole. This also is clear from repeated references to Canon 4 of Nicaea,
according to which a bishop has to be consecrated by neighboring bishops.72 Thus the apostolicity and
catholicity of the ministry are to be ensured by including other ordained persons in the ordination. The
Bible readings at the Wittenberg ordination service also speak of the office of a bishop, namely 1 Tim.
3:1-7 and Acts 20:28-31.
224. Ordination takes place with the constitutive elements of prayer and the laying-on of hands. It is
really God who acts in ordination, as shown by the opening prayer which asks him to send laborers
into his harvest (Mt 9:38), as well as by the prayer for the Holy Spirit. Through ordination, God's call
claims the ordinand's whole person.73 Trusting that these prayers are heard, the commissioning is
carried out with 1 Peter 5:2-4. An ordination administered in this way corresponds to an understanding
of ministry which is expressed in this way in one version of the ordination formula: "The ministry of the
church is most important and necessary for all churches and is given and preserved by God alone."74
3.4.2 The Threefold Ordained Ministry of Bishop, Priest, and Deacon according to the Council of Trent
225. The Council of Trent is a decisive point of reference in stating the Roman Catholic understanding
of the ordained ministry and its threefold articulation. At Trent the Fathers' main concern was to hold to
the apostolic tradition as it had been handed on and practiced through the centuries. Over against the
doctrines of the Reformation, and deliberately defining the differences, they strove to formulate the
Catholic faith's common understanding of central and now controverted topics, such as Scripture and
tradition, original sin and justification, and the sacraments. In so doing Trent avoided settling issues on
which the schools (viae) of Catholic theology advanced different positions. Trent also initiated the
needed reform of the church. But on ordained ministry, the Council was not able to integrate its
teaching into a coherent ecclesiological framework.
226. The doctrine and canons of Trent's Decree on the Sacrament of Order (sacramentum ordinis)
were determined by the policy of demarcation against the Reformation. Its teaching is derived from the
doctrine that there is in the New Covenant a sacrifice, namely, "the holy sacrifice of the Eucharist", and
for that reason Christ instituted a new "visible and external" priesthood (sacerdotium). The power
necessary for this was given "to the Apostles and their successors in the priesthood" (DS 1764;
Tanner, 742). This priesthood has the "power to consecrate and offer the true body and blood of the
Lord, and to forgive and retain sins." In this way it is explicitly differentiated from the "ministry . . . and
mere service of proclaiming the gospel" (DS 1771; Tanner, 743). Trent retains "other ordinations, for
higher or lower orders" (DS 1772; Tanner, 743) and defines that "Order (ordo) or holy ordination" is a
sacrament instituted by Christ and not solely a "rite for choosing ministers of the word of God and of
the sacraments" (DS 1773; Tanner, 743). The Council holds to a conferral of the Spirit on the ordinand
and to the sacramental character by virtue of which the person once ordained remains a priest for ever
(DS 1774; Tanner, 744).
227. The Tridentine discussion shows the decisive role played by the concept of priesthood in
preserving the traditional teaching on church ministry. Because of the key function ascribed to
priesthood by the patristic and medieval tradition for the understanding of church ministry, the Fathers
of the Council of Trent judged Luther's criticism of using this theological category to designate the
ordained ministry and his application of it to every Christian believer to be a reversal of the basic
structure of the church ministry. They stressed therefore that a priesthood oriented toward the
celebration of the eucharist belongs to the Catholic tradition, but they did not adequately develop the
ecclesiological framework for understanding of church ministry. The dogmatic doctrine of the Council
of Trent thus focused on the sacramentality of ordination and on the specific character of the
priesthood conferred through ordination in differentiation from the priesthood of all believers.
228. The task of preaching entrusted to those ordained to the ministry was certainly present in the
mind of the Tridentine Fathers, even if the topic was not explicitly integrated into their dogmatic
teaching, but was instead developed in the decrees that give directives for reforming clerical life and
pastoral care. Recent studies have however brought out the complexity of Tridentine doctrine on
ordained ministry, while showing the impact of teaching about the pastoral aspects of ministry on the
theology of the episcopal office. The concern of the Council was, first of all, to assert the
sacramentality of the Sacrament of Order. But no less important was the intention of renewing the life
of the clergy, with the main goal of the desired reforms being a more effective pastoral ministry. For
that reason the bishop must examine and choose suitable ordination candidates and bishops and
priests were both reminded of their duty to preach. While the dogmatic canons focus on priesthood,
that is, its authority and power to celebrate the eucharist, the reform canons on the Sacrament of
Order bring to the forefront norms for the appointment and promotion of clerics, for their ordination,
and for visitations. In this regard the bishop, not the priest, both ordains and defines the practice of
ministry. The bishop decides who is to be ordained and in his visitation he determines how the priest is
to exercise his ministry.
229. Because Trent's concept of "visible and external priesthood" marked the difference between
ordained ministry and the "invisible internal priesthood" of all believers, it also left open the question of
the inner structure of ministry and the hierarchical relationship between bishops, presbyters and
deacons. The need to clarify the last question produced a shift of perspective in dealing with the
dogmatic side of teaching on church ministry. During the early stages of the Council, Order was
treated within the context of the Decree on the Sacrifice of the Mass, so that offering sacrifice and
priesthood were the points of reference for the Sacrament of Order. But the third and last session
(1562-63) relativized priesthood as the starting-point for the Sacrament of Order and moved toward
clarifying the ecclesial setting both of the ordained ministry and of the relationship between the
different ministries. The result of this effort is summarized in Canon 6, which after debate at the
Council received its present form: "Excluded shall be anyone who denies that there exists in the
Catholic Church a hierarchy consisting of bishops, priests, and ministers, instituted by divine
appointment" (DS 1776; Tanner, 744). The priesthood is thus understood as a structure which
includes different degrees of spiritual authority. Priesthood therefore entails internal diversity and the
diversity of grades must be applied to the sacramental hierarchy, at least to presbyters and bishops.
230. Regarding the inner structure of the ordained ministry, a noteworthy aspect is the expression "by
divine appointment" (divina ordinatione), which is weaker than the technical expression "of divine right"
(iure divino). This shows that while the inner differentiation of ministry corresponds to the will of God
and to his plan for the church, still one cannot exclude a certain degree of historical contingency.
231. The hierarchical structure of ministry also includes the relation between the bishops and the
bishop of Rome. But the Tridentine discussion was not able to work out the needed clarification of the
thorny issue of the foundation of episcopal authority and it left open the question of the relation
between order and jurisdiction. As the question of jurisdiction was excluded due to earlier debates on
the powers of bishops and their relation to the authority of the pope (delegated or direct), the hierarchy
was treated within the framework of the Sacrament of Order in a more narrow sense, i.e. with respect
to the sacramental grades of Order. The canonist Paleotti, who was responsible for the final version of
Canon 6, wrote in his notes on 6 July 1563, the day of the vote: "Bishops perform all the sacramental
actions just like the Pope. In this area therefore they do not stand under the Pope. For there exists a
double hierarchy, one on the level of holy actions, the other in the area of church leadership. The
former belongs to the Sacrament of Order, which we are treating here, and in it the highest grade is
that of bishops."75 In addition, Paleotti understands the episcopate as a pastoral ministry, endowed
with a sacramentally based jurisdiction, which is responsible for "grazing the flock" (pascere) and
which is distinct from the task of leadership (regere).
232. On one hand the Council of Trent took as central the category of priesthood, but at the same time
it enlarged the concept so as to include pastoral tasks. Thus Order is no longer exclusively understood
on the basis of priesthood, while priesthood must be understood on the basis of Order with its
manifold pastoral tasks, so that the concrete church becomes the comprehensive framework for
Order. By assigning the position of pre-eminence to the bishop, Canon 6 represents a basic change of
direction in the understanding of the Sacrament of Order, moving away from the eucharistic body
toward the ecclesial body of Christ and its members. This change becomes even clearer and easier to
grasp in the Reform Decrees which use the model of shepherd and pastor to describe the bishop.
233. Trent's doctrine on church ministry and its reform decrees contain two theologies of ordained
ministry. The first has priesthood as its basic concept, while the second centers on the episcopate.
The second perspective could not prevail everywhere because it was difficult to clarify the relation
between episcopate and primacy, but it gave a differentiated shape to a teaching originally oriented to
priesthood. It made possible the retention of a sacramental difference between bishop and presbyter,
against St. Jerome's idea of the sacramental identity between bishop and priest based on their
common relation to the eucharist. However, the view that the priesthood has to be understood on the
basis of Order and not vice versa, did not prevail in the following centuries. One part of the Catholic
understanding of the ministry, priesthood, was later emphasized so much that it was sometimes taken
to be the whole of ordained ministry. Only with Vatican II was this narrow conception of the Counter-Reformation overcome.
234. The lack of agreement on the relationship between ordo and jurisdiction was also the reason why
the Council omitted a discussion of apostolic succession, especially during and after the second
session. It was clear to the Council participants that bishops were successors of the apostles and the
Pope successor of the Apostle Peter. But this initial idea was not developed from this basis into a
theological explanation of the episcopate. The Council wanted to avoid the question of the relation
between apostolic and Petrine succession regarding jurisdiction. The theme of apostolic succession in
the episcopate was not abandoned, but was simply stated in a subordinate clause: "the bishops, who
have succeeded to the place of the Apostles" (episcopos, qui in Apostolorum locum successerunt; DS
1768; Tanner, 743, Latin text) and so lost its function of providing the basis for the bishop's eminent
position and specific authority. The episcopal functions in which the superiority of the bishops finds its
expression are then simply listed: "they are higher than priests and are able to confer the sacrament of
confirmation, to ordain the ministers of the church and to fulfill many other functions, whereas those of
lower order have no power to perform any of these acts" (DS 1768; Tanner, 743.). But the Decree
gave no indication of the foundation of these roles.
3.5 The Ordained Ministry according to Vatican II and in Lutheran Teaching Today
3.5.1 Vatican II on the Ordained Ministry
235. While the Council of Trent gave a direct response to issues raised by the Reformation, the
Second Vatican Council (1962-65) sought to treat the same questions in a more balanced manner,
taking account both of a broader ecclesiological setting and of the new awareness, fostered by the
ecumenical movement, of a shared heritage of faith. Vatican II saw the other Christian churches and
ecclesial communities in the fresh perspective of emphasis on Christian elements shared in common.
Vatican II did not depart from or minimalize the binding doctrine of Trent, but it drew on a wider church
tradition and introduced new accents in its presentation of the church.
The Common Priesthood of All the Baptized
236. The Council of Trent did not work out a doctrine of the common priesthood of all believers but in
its treatment of the Sacrament of Order and the other sacraments it neither excluded nor denied it. It
was concerned with the ordo of the church and with the Sacrament of Order because it considered
both to have been endangered and denied by the Reformation. Medieval theology knew the doctrine of
the sharing of the baptized in Christ's priesthood, based sacramentally in baptism. Thomas Aquinas
for instance speaks of a "priesthood of the life of grace", and of a "sacramental priesthood" given by
baptism and confirmation which enables the faithful to receive and celebrate the sacraments, while
differing from the priesthood of ordained ministers.76
237. The doctrine of the priesthood of all the baptized was mentioned in older manuals of Catholic
dogmatic theology, but magisterial statements about it first appear in the twentieth century, in the wake
of the liturgical movement, for instance, in the Encyclical of Pius XII Mediator Dei (1947), on the liturgy,
in which a central idea is actuosa participatio, the active participation in worship of the whole priestly
people of God. But Vatican II recaptures the biblical, patristic and medieval approaches to the
common priesthood and makes them central concepts of its ecclesiology (cf. LG 10f, 34; SC; AA 3;
PO 2). Drawing on the classic New Testament texts on the priestly character of the people of God,
especially 1 Peter 2:4-10, the Council describes in the Lumen gentium (LG 10) the common
priesthood, while distinguishing it from the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood exercised by the
ordained ministry. Speaking of the eucharist, LG 11 says of believers, "Taking part in the eucharistic
sacrifice, the source and summit of the Christian life, they offer the divine victim to God and offer
themselves along with him. And so it is that, both in offering (oblation) and in Holy Communion
(communion), in their separate ways, though not of course indiscriminately, all have their own part to
play in the liturgical action."
238. The phrase "in their separate ways" refers to the distinction already stated between the common
and the hierarchical priesthood, which LG 10 describes as differing "essentially and not only in degree
(essentia et non gradu tantum)". This means that "church ministry cannot be derived from the
congregation, but it is also not an enhancement of the common priesthood, and the minister as such is
not a Christian to a greater degree."77 The priesthood of all believers and the ordained ministry are
both grounded in the priesthood of Christ, but they belong to different areas, because the first
expresses the basic Christian identity of every member of the people of God while the second
characterizes the capacity to exercise the pastoral ministry, as is necessary for building up the people
of God. The specific character of priestly service is described in LG 10 with reference to the liturgy: the
officiating priest "in the person of Christ . . . brings about the eucharistic sacrifice and offers it to God
in the name of all the people. The faithful, indeed, by virtue of their royal priesthood, share in the
offering of the Eucharist." LG 34 describes in greater detail the common priesthood of all believers and
their participation in the worship of the church, but also the priestly service of their whole lives. It
emphasizes once again the association and interaction between the common priesthood of all
believers and the ordained priesthood. One is unthinkable without the other but both are special and
different ways of participating in Christ's priesthood, that is, in ways which cannot be derived from
Apostolic Mission and Church Ministry
239. The rediscovery by the Second Vatican Council of the doctrine of the common priesthood of all
baptized and the ecclesiological role given to this doctrine in Chapter 2 ("The People of God") of the
Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium, has an impact also on the doctrine of the
ordained ministry. The concept of priesthood (sacerdotium) can no longer serve as the only
appropriate and immediate description of the nature of church ministry. Without denying the legitimacy
of the concept, Vatican II follows a different path in explaining the foundation and the specific
character of ordained ministry and places the priestly-liturgical dimension of it within the framework of
the mission coming from Christ. "This divine mission, which was committed by Christ to the apostles,
is destined to last until the end of the world (see Mt 28:20), since the Gospel they are obliged to hand
on is the principle of all the Church's life for all time" (LG 20). The apostles can be considered from
two different points of view according to the Decree Ad Gentes: they "were both the seeds (germina)
of the New Israel and the beginning (origo) of the sacred hierarchy" (AG 5). The task of proclaiming
the gospel is given to the whole church so that all those who belong to the people of God "have been
made sharers in their own way in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ and play their part in
carrying out the mission of the whole Christian people in the church and in the world" (LG 31). Within
the mission entrusted to all the people of God, there is a specific apostolic mission entrusted to the
episcopal college. This college continues the work of those appointed by the apostles who "ruled that
on their death, other approved men should take over their ministry" (LG 20). The theme of succession
in the apostolic mission and apostolic ministry has thus a central place in the theology of the ordained
ministry worked out by Vatican II.
The Episcopal Office
240. The new perspective from which Lumen gentium deals with church ministry explains both the
central place given to the episcopate, contrasting with Trent's focus on the priesthood, and the
importance of the theme of apostolic succession. Without denying the doctrinal, missionary and
existential dimension of the apostolic succession, Chapter 3 of Lumen gentium speaks primarily on its
ministerial aspect: "the sacred synod consequently teaches that bishops have by divine institution
taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the church in such wise that whoever hears them hears
Christ and whoever rejects them rejects Christ and him who sent Christ" (LG 20; cf. Lk 10:16). The
bishops are "transmitters of the apostolic seed" and "the apostolic tradition is manifested and
preserved throughout the world by those whom the apostles made bishops and by their successors
down to our own time" (LG 20). 241. Succession in ministry for service of the apostolic tradition going
back to the origins is therefore according to Vatican II the foundation of the episcopate. "The order of
bishops is the successor to the college of the apostles in their role as teachers and pastors, and in it
the apostolic college is perpetuated. Together with its head, the Supreme Pontiff, and never apart from
him, it is the subject of supreme and full authority over the universal Church" (LG 22). The special
place and the authority of the bishop of Rome within the episcopal college have their foundation in the
succession of Peter (cf. LG 20). For Vatican II the episcopate thus becomes the basic form of
ordained ministry and the point of departure for the theological interpretation of church ministry. Thus it
completes and brings to conclusion the development already begun at the Council of Trent. It
consistently takes the pastoral perspective and includes not only the liturgical task but also the office
of preaching and leadership, as the theological framework for understanding ordained ministry and
presents the episcopal office as the fundamental, primordial and full form of this ministry.
242. The Council then describes the substance and functions of episcopal ministry in terms of the
"three offices" (munera), those of teacher, priest and shepherd. The proclamation of the gospel takes
pride of place over the other "principal duties of bishops" (LG 25). One could say that the proclamation
of the gospel and the celebration of the sacraments are the means by which the bishops as shepherds
"pasture" the people of God entrusted to their leadership.
243. The sacrament of ordination is the path that gives access to the episcopal ministry and to the
bishops' college: "The holy synod teaches, moreover, that the fullness of the Sacrament of Orders is
conferred by Episcopal consecration . . . [which] confers, together with the office of sanctifying, the
offices also of teaching and ruling, which, however, of their very nature can be exercised only in
hierarchical communion with the head and the members of the college" (LG 21). This account of
episcopal ordination emphasizes two aspects: the sacramental origin of the episcopal ministry and its
collegial character. The gift of the Spirit by the sacrament makes the bishop capable of performing the
tasks of preaching, presiding over the liturgy, and governing the church. At the same time, the
sacrament makes him a member of a college, which is "the subject of supreme and full authority over
the universal Church" (LG 22). Because of the collegial structure of the episcopate, "it is for bishops to
admit newly elected members into the episcopal body by means of the sacrament of Orders" (LG 21).
244. The essentially collegial structure and nature of the episcopate means also that the bishop is
incorporated into the college of bishops in which the communion of the churches (communio
ecclesiarum) expresses itself as communion among the bishops (communio episcoporum). On the
basis of this correspondence between the college of bishops and the communion of the churches,
Vatican II formulated as well the basic statement of its ecclesiology, which therefore can be called a
communio-ecclesiology. "Individual bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own
particular churches, which are modeled on the universal church; it is in and from these that the one
and unique Catholic Church exists (in quibus et ex quibus una et unica Ecclesia catholica exsistit).
And for that reason each bishop represents his own church, whereas all of them together and with the
Pope represent the whole Church in the bond of peace, love, and unity" (LG 23).
Presbyters and Deacons
245. Vatican II also considers the other ordained ministries of presbyter and deacon within the
preceding framework of the mission of the apostles and their successors, the bishops. In order to
keep the historic question of the inner structuring and differentiation of the ordained ministry as open
as possible, the Council formulated very cautiously the text of Lumen gentium on the ministry of
presbyters, saying that the bishops "duly entrusted in varying degrees (vario gradu) various members
of the church with the office of ministry (munus ministerii)" (LG 28). And, conscious of the time it took
for the terminology of ministry to establish itself in the first two centuries and of the problems raised by
the attempt to define precisely the relationship between the episcopal ministry and the presbyterate,
the Council speaks just as carefully: "Thus the divinely instituted (divinitus institutum) ecclesiastical
ministry is exercised in different degrees (diversis ordinibus) by those who even from ancient times
(iam ab antiquo) have been called bishops, priests and deacons" (LG 28).
246. About the ministry of the presbyters it is said that "while they do not have the supreme degree of
the pontifical office and depend on the bishops for the exercise of their power, priests are for all that
associated with them by reason of their priestly dignity (sacerdotali honore). By virtue of the sacrament
of Orders, they are consecrated . . . to preach the gospel and shepherd the faithful as well as to
celebrate divine worship as true priests of the New Testament" (LG 28). This repeats what Trent had
set forth, but the starting point is not, as after Trent, the sacerdotal dimension, but instead the pattern
of the threefold office from which theology of the presbyterate develops.
247. Vatican II's Decree on Priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis) locates the origin of this ministry in the
proclamation of the gospel, in a manner similar to the Council's theology of the episcopate. The
priestly ministry starts with the preaching of the gospel. "The people of God is formed into one in the
first place by the word of the living God, which is quite rightly expected from the mouth of priests. For
since nobody can be saved who has not first believed, it is the first task of priests as co-workers of the
bishops to preach the gospel of God to all" (PO 4). Vatican II is no longer concerned with only a part of
priestly ministry but with the whole of it. After preaching, there follows a description of the liturgical
ministry of the priest, and the eucharist is described as "the source and the summit of all preaching of
the gospel," and "the center of the assembly of the faithful" (PO 5). Reflections on the pastoral ministry
then round off the whole. These include the key work of priests being "instructors of the people in the
faith" who have to see to it "that all the believers are led in the Holy Spirit to the full development of
their vocation in accordance with the gospel teaching, and to sincere and active charity and the liberty
with which Christ has set us free" (PO 6). It becomes clear that the particular dimensions of priestly
ministry are seen as closely connected with each other, and that only the sum-total of these tasks
constitutes the ordained ministry.
248. It is worth noting the similarity between the descriptions of the ministerial functions of presbyters
and of bishops. The same pattern of the threefold office - preaching, liturgy, leadership - is used for
bishops and presbyters, and in the concrete life of the church precisely the latter carry out the ordinary
exercise of these functions through which the church is built up, while the bishops have oversight over
teaching and care for the communion among local communities. However the presbyters exercise
their ministry in subordination to the bishops and in communion with them. The sacramental origin and
hierarchical relation to the episcopate are therefore the two characteristic features of the office of
presbyters. On one hand their mission and authority rest on the gift of the Spirit conferred by the
sacrament of ordination, while on the other hand they exercise their ministry under the bishops, and
through them are within a structured church communion.
249. The Decree on Priests also mentions explicitly the ecclesial integration of presbyters into the
priestly people of God. All members of the church share in Jesus' anointing by the Holy Spirit. In him
"all the faithful are made a holy and kingly priesthood, they offer spiritual sacrifices to God through
Jesus Christ, and they proclaim the mighty acts of him who has called them out of darkness into his
marvelous light (cf. 1 Pet 2:5.9). Therefore, there is no such thing as a member who does not have a
share in the mission of the whole body. Rather, all of the members ought to revere Jesus in their
hearts (see 1 Pet 3:15) and by the spirit of prophecy give testimony to Jesus" (PO 2). The building-up
of the body of Christ is seen as the basis and the goal of the priestly ministry. About these ordained
ministers the Decree says: "These men held in the community of the faithful the sacred power of
order, that of offering sacrifice and forgiving sins, and exercised the priestly office publicly on behalf of
men and women in the name of Christ" (PO 2). As Trent had done, Vatican II mentions the power to
offer sacrifice and to forgive sins, but goes on to speak of the public dimension of ministerial office.
250. In the Western church, the diaconate always existed as a grade of ordination, but only in a
stunted form as a transitional stage to the presbyterate. It had already lost its function as an
independent ministry before the end of the first millennium. Only with the Second Vatican Council has
the permanent diaconate really been revived. Concerning deacons, the Council used a formulation
from the liturgies of the Early Church and says that they receive the laying-on of hands "not for the
priesthood but for a ministry of service (non ad sacerdotium sed ad ministerium)" (LG 29). For the rest
this rediscovered ordained ministry of the permanent diaconate in the Catholic Church is a quite open
ministry employed in various services in the church. Furthermore the diaconate shows that even an
ordained ministry can be without function or place for centuries, and that the ministerial practice of the
Catholic Church has undergone far-reaching changes.
251. To sum up this survey on the ordained ministry, one could say that Trent is constantly present in
Vatican II but that new accents were placed by the latter which are not entirely foreign to the Lutheran
theology of ministry, such as, the connection with and embedding of the ministry in the common
priesthood of all the baptized, the public nature of the ordained ministry, and especially the emphasis
on the proclamation of the gospel as the main task of the ordained ministry in general. Viewed in this
way, Vatican II really represents an answer to the Reformation and its attempts to retain the ordained
ministry on the basis of the center of the faith, that is, the proclamation of the gospel in word and
sacrament. On the other hand, when Vatican II emphasizes the episcopate as the basic form of
church ministry, it gives prominence to a difference from the Lutheran understanding of ministry, which
is fully realized in the public service of word and sacrament in the local community.
3.5.2. The Ordained Ministry in Lutheran Teaching Today The Ordained Ministry and the Priesthood of
all the Baptized
252. The ministry of communicating the gospel to the whole world has been entrusted to the people of
God as a whole and to each individual member of it. From the Lutheran perspective, ordained ministry
has to be seen in the framework of the priesthood of all the baptized precisely because the task of
passing on the message of the gospel has been given to both. But the foundation for the one is
characteristically quite different from the foundation for the other. It is precisely in this differentiation
that they are related to each other.
253. All those who are baptized in the name of the Triune God receive in baptism a share in his
priesthood which they live out in faith in Christ. Part of this priesthood is, first, that those who are
baptized will bear witness before others to Christ with whom they are linked in faith and whose
qualities, such as justice, holiness, wisdom, are bestowed on them by virtue of faith, and they thus
pass on the gospel. Second, it is part of their priesthood that they become a Christ for others in as far
as they share in bearing their burdens (Gal 6:2), especially their sins, and they bring others before God
in prayer. This is the communication of the gospel through the witness of faith and life in the various
everyday circumstances of life.
254. The ordained ministry, as a special ministry, rests on divine institution. This ministry is not
obtained by baptism but by a special vocation and ordination. Among the most important
characteristics of this ministry are its public nature and its ordered institutionality. Its specific task is the
public proclamation of the gospel in word and sacrament. The administration of the sacraments is one
of its specific tasks because, by their nature, sacraments are public enactments. This ministry is
directed to all. For that reason one of its essential tasks is fostering the unity of all those who are
priests by the priesthood of all the baptized. Within the one task of the whole people of God, which is
to communicate the gospel to the whole world, there is therefore a differentiated referential
relationship between the specific tasks of the general priesthood of all the baptized and of the
255. The institution of the ordained ministry by God corresponds to the externality of the word of God
which stands apart from the congregation because the congregation lives by this word. Because, and
in as far as, the ministry has its basis and criterion in the task of communicating the gospel to the
whole congregation in such a compelling way that assurance of faith is awakened and made possible,
the ordained minister also stands apart from the congregation - precisely for the sake of the general
priesthood. A particular ministry is required so that this priesthood may be general and one while the
general priesthood is realized in the particular everyday situations in which Christians live.
256. If, like Luther, one takes the ordained ministry to be a divine institution, this does not mean a
seizure of power by the clergy as is often supposed. On the contrary! If the particular ministry has the
duty of preaching the external word of the gospel to all in a binding way, this means that the ministers
are required, as far as possible, to renounce their own will in order to make room for the word of God,
and to put aside all partisanship which is necessarily linked with power struggles. It is precisely the
nature of their task that obliges them to do so. It would be quite different if the office-bearer were
simply a functionary of the will of the congregation. This obligation remains even if reality often seems
to contradict it.
257. The ministry has the task of proclaiming the gospel in such a way that the believers become
familiar with Christ's voice and thus become "the lambs that hear the voice of their shepherd."78 This
process of education itself is the presupposition for the congregation's ability to evaluate doctrine and
the proclamation of the office-holders. This competence derives from the fact that believers are guided
by the external word, and therefore have the capacity to interpret Scripture. This means, first, that it is
the congregation's duty to evaluate the ministerial performance of their male and female pastors, from
the viewpoint of ensuring that it really is the gospel, as distinct from the law but still in relation to it, that
is proclaimed. Secondly it means that office-bearers cannot expect approval of their doctrine or
preaching simply by virtue of formal reference to the authority of their ministry, but only by giving
reasons which are directly or indirectly linked with Holy Scripture. Third, however, it means that
inversely the judgment of the members of the congregation also requires the same scriptural
substantiation, so that both, congregation and ministers, meet within the medium of scriptural
exegesis in the widest sense, and that they there deal with conflicts and seek consensus. Only when
this occurs can one speak of the exercise of the ordained ministry and the general priesthood.
258. The priesthood of all the baptized is not primarily a legal entitlement to share in decision-making
in the church, but means above all being enabled and commissioned to become Christ for others,
because the believers live by Christ's gospel and are united with him in faith. But this also means that
representing Christ cannot be limited to the incumbents of the ordained ministry unless this
representation is understood in a specific sense. Lutheran churches consider themselves empowered
and obligated to call women too to the ordained ministry.
259. The authority and power of the ministry are basically grounded in the authority and power of the
word of God which the ministry serves. Ministers act in reference to the word of God and its authority,
for instance, when they pronounce the words of institution at the celebration of Holy Communion.
These acts essentially take place publicly and for all. Therefore no individual can simply take up office,
but an external call is a prerequisite. However, induction into the ministry cannot be simply a calling,
for it must also be an authorization, because the incumbent of the ministry is a witness to the gospel.
All testimony is influenced by the individuality and the perspectives of the witness. And yet the witness,
man or woman, has to testify to the Christ event and therefore speak of something other than himself
or herself, as in 2 Cor 4:5, "We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ who is our Lord." This
requires authorization through the promise that the Holy Spirit will constantly support the ministers in
the exercise of their ministry.
260. Credible, in the strict sense of the word, is the word of God alone, not the life of the minister.
Nevertheless the testimony of these witnesses is either enhanced or weakened by their lives, because
Christ as the Lord lays claim to the whole of their life for himself. The list of requirements for the
overseer in 1 Tim. 3:1-7, and also in 1 Peter 5:2f, is proof of the significance of the life of the minister
for his or her ministry. On the basis of this calling and authorization, ministers can be assured that the
Holy Spirit will use their acts as his instruments to bring fruit and they can trust that in the power of the
Holy Spirit they can properly obtain a hearing and a place for the word of God. This authorization helps
them not to be broken by or to fail in the task to which they have been called, despite their insufficiency
and sin. It also gives them freedom to admit mistakes, because the call and the authorization are
conferred without a time limit. Therefore Lutheran churches should also be open to the hope for the
specific gift of grace related to ministry being conferred through prayer and laying on of hands in
ordination, as spoken of in 1 Tim 4:14 and 2 Tim 1:6. This however does not change the office-holder's state of grace before God.
261. Ordination as induction into office is performed with prayer and the laying-on of hands. It is both
prayer for the Holy Spirit and reliable promise of the support of the Holy Spirit and thus authorization
for the ministry. It therefore can be said about the presbyteroi that the Holy Spirit has instituted them to
be episkopoi, to shepherd God's congregation (Acts 20:17.28). Ordination is the call to ministry in the
whole church; it is not repeated on the occasion of a change of placement or after a temporary
interruption of service in the church. It is a lifelong call and claims the whole person for the service of
Differentiation of the Ministry
262. Because the proclamation of the word of God and the administration of the sacraments awakens
and maintains faith and thus builds up the church, the basic unit of the church is the congregation
gathered in worship around word and sacrament. The ordained ministry primarily relates to this
congregation. However, every Christian and every congregation is linked with all other Christians and
congregations believing in the same Lord. This spiritual reality, like every spiritual reality, needs to find
concrete expression in people and practices which as instruments of the Holy Spirit in turn maintain
and strengthen the bonds within the church. This corresponds to the factual logic of the external word
which the Holy Spirit uses as his instrument. It is not sufficient to simply affirm each worshipping
congregation's link with the universal church; the link requires a deliberate and institutionalized
structuring if it is not to wither away and damage the unity between the congregations. These spiritual
bonds must be discerned and fostered by a ministry and by people especially called to it.
263. As we noted above, the task of the incumbent of ministry is to preach the message of the gospel
to the whole congregation, and to distribute it to all in the sacraments. Experience teaches that the
incumbents of the ministry by no means always do this correctly, that is, that in different congregations
the gospel is preached in different and sometimes even contradictory ways and that the sacraments
are by no means always rightly administered. But the truth of the gospel cannot be one truth in one
congregation and another truth in another. Therefore a ministry is required that exercises oversight
over congregations and their pastors. This derives necessarily from the interplay of the following
factors: first, the fact that the church is only found where the gospel is properly preached and the
sacraments administered according to their institution; second, the fallibility and sinfulness of office-holders in the exercise of their ministry, particularly in the preaching of the gospel and the
administration of the sacraments; third, the common bond between all Christians and Christian
congregations; and fourth, the need to give a concrete institutionalized form to the spiritual reality of
the bond between all Christians and Christian congregations.
264. In order that the church may be one beyond the bounds of the individual congregation, it requires
a supra-congregational ministry. This ministry has the task of both ensuring the unity of the church and
at the same time of keeping the church faithful to its apostolic origins. Indeed, this ministry can only
ensure the unity of the church by insisting that in their life and teaching all Christian congregations
remain in agreement with their apostolic foundation. This task is no different from the task of the
presbyterial office, but in the supra-local ministry the area of responsibility is wider, and certain
additional tasks and responsibilities arise. From these derive the special rights and duties of a bishop.
265. In terms of its fundamental duties, therefore, the ministry is one even if internal differentiation is
necessary for the unity of the church. This does not, however, determine what form the supralocal
oversight will take in any individual case. This cannot be construed on the basis of a principle, for the
experiences the church has undergone play a decisive role. This means that one has to expect a
diversity of forms, because those experiences are not always and everywhere the same. Clearly the
Lutheran Reformation in Germany wanted to retain the episcopate despite its criticism of the institution
of prince-bishops. Within the German Empire, in contrast to the Nordic countries, this was not
possible, in part for constitutional reasons. Nevertheless there have always been supra-local
266. When, after the breakdown of the monarchy in 1918 the Lutheran Church in Germany also had to
be re-organized, the episcopate was gradually reinstated almost everywhere. It was however aligned
to the synod in its supra-local tasks of supervision, in accordance with the principle that all non-ordained members of the church share the responsibility for the church on the basis of the general
priesthood. Non-ordained members are therefore also included in the ministries of church leadership
on various levels. However, many questions arise at this point concerning both the theological basis
and matters of detail in the organization of the relationship. Not all of these questions have so far been
answered satisfactorily. The issue of the internal structuring of ministry concentrates here on the
question of pastoral and episcopal office, because the question of apostolic succession relates
primarily to this issue. It should be pointed out as well that in many Lutheran churches an intensive
discussion is taking place concerning the diaconate and its relationship to ordained ministry.
267. If ordination is induction into the ministry of the whole church, it is logical that the ordaining
person is the office-bearer who represents the whole regional church, who is as a rule the bishop. On
the basis of the unity of the ministry a presbyteral ordination is possible in principle; however,
according to the intention of the episcopal ministry, ordination by a bishop should be the normal
practice. Since however the local congregation, that is, the worshiping congregation, is the
fundamental unit of the church and the ordained ministry is intended for it, congregational participation
in the ordination must also have its place.
268. Thus a bishop has to care for the unity of a local church. Just as in the relationship between
individual congregations, the problem of the unity of the church recurs in the relationship between
dioceses. For the sake of the unity of the church extending beyond the diocese, it is appropriate that
the episcopate be exercised in a collegial manner. In Lutheran churches this does in fact occur on the
national level to a certain extent through the bishops' conferences and joint synods. But since, in the
theological sense, nations are not or should not be relevant factors for the reality of the church, the
continued development of collegiality among Lutheran bishops beyond the national framework
remains a challenge. In recent years the Lutheran World Federation has begun holding regional and
global meetings of bishops and presidents of Lutheran churches. But until now, such meetings do not
have a formalized role within the Lutheran Communion. And the role of the episcopal ministry in
expressing and safeguarding the unity in the whole church remains an issue of discussion among
269. The historic episcopate, which has been the subject of regional ecumenical agreements between
Anglicans and Lutherans, is recognized by Lutherans as a sign of the apostolicity of the church. It is
not understood as a guarantee of apostolicity but as a sign which commits the whole church, and
within it the bishops in particular, to care for this apostolicity. The Porvoo document says: "The use of
the sign of the historic episcopal succession does not by itself guarantee the fidelity of the church to
every aspect of the apostolic faith, life and mission. There have been schisms in the history of
churches using the sign of historic succession. Nor does the sign guarantee the personal faithfulness
of the bishops. Nonetheless, the retention of the sign remains a permanent challenge to fidelity and to
unity, a summons to witness to, and a commission to realize more fully, the permanent characteristics
of the Church of the apostles."79 Since a bishop is both responsible for the unity among the
congregations at one time synchronically and, through ordination, stands for the unity and apostolicity
of the church through the ages diachronically, it is appropriate to express the temporal dimension of
apostolicity in the sign of the historic succession: it is the continuity of the church, wrought by the Holy
Spirit. Under the Spirit's guidance and help, the bishop can be the servant of the continuity and
apostolicity of the church.
3.6 Conclusions: Apostolic Succession and Ordained Ministry
270. The ordained ministry belongs to the essential elements which, through the power of the Holy
Spirit, contribute to the church being and remaining apostolic, while they in turn express the church's
apostolicity. To fulfill that task, the ministry itself must be ministry in apostolic succession. What this
means, and under what conditions ministry is rightly called apostolic has been a matter of dispute
between Catholics and Lutherans since the beginning of the Reformation. At present the relationship
is asymmetrical insofar as Lutherans recognize the ministry of the Catholic Church as apostolic, while
the reverse is not the case from the Catholic side. But the expositions of this Part have brought to light
important agreements as well as important differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the
Lutheran churches regarding both the institutional reality and the doctrinal understanding of ministry.
From this, new perspectives open up concerning the recognition of ministries.
271. Together, Catholics and Lutherans affirm: The church is apostolic on the basis of the apostolic
gospel and in its faithfulness to it. This gospel is continually prior to the church, as Paul says, "God
was . . . entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God
is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Cor
5:19c-20). The apostles who were called to be witnesses of the Risen Jesus Christ are the first and
normative witnesses of the gospel. In the characteristic of being eye-witnesses they have no
successors, but their testimony remains foundational for the church of all times. The church can be
apostolic solely by agreeing with the witness of the apostles.
272. In their proclamation and in their deeds the apostles are ambassadors for Christ, which is their
human activity. But it is God himself who actually speaks in their proclamation. God is the true subject
of this appeal: "Be reconciled to God." God makes himself present to human beings in the human
words of proclamation and physical words of the sacraments. Lutherans and Catholics agree in the
conviction that Christ, the one sent by the Father, gives himself to human beings in the audible words
of proclamation and in the physical words of the sacraments. This takes place by the power of the
Holy Spirit and is to be grasped and held in faith. The working of the Holy Spirit is the context of the
theological discussion of the ministry.
273. Catholics and Lutherans are in agreement that all the baptized who believe in Christ share in the
priesthood of Christ and are thus commissioned to "proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out
of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet 2:9). Hence no member lacks a part to play in the mission
of the whole body. "All the members ought to reverence Jesus in their hearts and by the spirit of
prophecy give testimony to Jesus" (PO 2).
274. Ordained ministers have a special task within the mission of the church as a whole. Lutherans
say that the ministers are commissioned for public proclamation of God's word and for the
administration of the sacraments. "The gospel bestows on those who preside over the churches the
commission to proclaim the gospel, forgive sins, and administer the sacraments."80 Catholics also
declare that it is the task of ordained ministers to gather the people of God together by the word of
God and to proclaim this to all so that they may believe. Priests are also "made sharers in a special
way in Christ's priesthood and, by carrying out sacred functions, act as ministers of him who through
his Spirit continually exercises his priestly role for our benefit in the liturgy" (PO 5). Thus priests are
commissioned to administer the sacraments, which "are bound up with the Eucharist and are directed
toward it," for it is "the source and summit of all preaching of the Gospel" (PO 5). Thus for both
Catholics and Lutherans the fundamental duty and intention of ordained ministry is public service of
the word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, which the Triune God has commissioned the church to
proclaim to all the world. Every office and every office-holder must be measured against this
275. For both Catholics and Lutherans, the common priesthood of all the baptized and the special,
ordained ministry do not compete with each other. Instead, the special ministry is precisely service to
the common priesthood of all. Office-holders have the task of passing on the gospel correctly to all, so
that the faithful can, each in his or her own place, be priests in the sense of the universal priesthood
and fulfill the mission of the church in that place. Thus ministers act for the unity of believers in one
faith in the one Lord, so that they are "one body and one spirit" (Eph 4:4). As service to the word of
God this ministry stands over against the congregation, while at the same time the minister also
belongs to the congregation.
276. Catholics and Lutherans affirm together that God instituted the ministry and that it is necessary
for the being of the church, since the word of God and its public proclamation in word and sacrament
are necessary for faith in Jesus Christ to arise and be preserved and together with this for the church
to come into being and be preserved as believers who make up the body of Christ in the unity of faith.
277. Induction into this ministry takes place by ordination, in which a Christian is called and
commissioned, by prayer and the laying on of hands, for the ministry of public preaching of the gospel
in word and sacrament. That prayer is a plea for the Holy Spirit and the Spirit's gifts, made in the
certainty that it will be heard. Christ himself acts in the human rite of ordination, promising and giving
the ordinand the Holy Spirit for his or her ministry. That does not alter the justifying grace of ordained
ministers before God, but their ministry is to take place in the power and with the support of the Holy
Spirit. Ordination is essentially induction into the ministry of the whole church, even though the present
divisions of the churches prevent this from being fully realized. Through their call and commission, the
ordained are claimed for lifelong service of the gospel. To this extent Catholics and Lutherans agree in
their understanding of ordination.
278. Ministry is service to the gospel, which has two interrelated implications. On the one hand, the
gospel is not at the disposal of the office. Ministry, if it is to fulfill its intention, can have no other
purpose than to serve the gospel and assist it to prevail. On the other hand, the gospel encounters
human beings in a concrete way in preaching and in the sacraments of the church. Both facets belong
together, because it is the Holy Spirit who makes Jesus Christ and his deed of reconciliation of the
whole world present in a saving way to all human beings through human words and actions.
279. The differentiation of the ministry into a more local and a more regional office arises of necessity
out of the intention and task of the ministry to be a ministry of unity in faith. The congregation gathered
for worship is the place where human beings hear and receive the word of God by word and
sacrament. Thus faith is awakened, nurtured and renewed, and believers are gathered and unified in
faith in Christ. But there are many such congregations gathered for worship. In order that they may be
one in faith in the one gospel and have communion with each other, there must be a ministry which
takes responsibility for this unity. Particularly from the fourth century onwards the task of regional
leadership developed, which was increasingly entrusted to bishops, while presbyters became the
leaders of local congregations. The supra-local visitations of the Reformation era did not happen by
chance but emerged out of inner necessity. Thus Lutheran churches too have always been episcopally
ordered in the sense of having a ministry which bears responsibility for the communion in faith of
individual local congregations. How this ministry is structured in detail remains open, as does the
relationship of this ministry to the office of pastor. But differentiation within the ministry is itself
necessary. The supra-local ministry of oversight in Lutheran churches today is carried out both by
individuals and by synods in which both the ordained and non-ordained work together.
280. The document The Ministry in the Church states: "If both churches acknowledge that for faith this
historical development of the one apostolic ministry into a more local and a more regional ministry has
taken place with the help of the Holy Spirit and to this degree constitutes something essential for the
church, then a high degree of agreement has been reached."81 When one considers what has been
shown above about the objective necessity of a differentiation within ministerial office, which is
effectively present in the Lutheran churches and is recognized as such, then the hypothetical wording
of this sentence can be changed into an affirmation. Catholics and Lutherans say together that the
episcopé of ministry must be exercised at two different levels, that is, both locally in the congregation
281. Catholic doctrine holds the divine institution of the hierarchy consisting of bishops, priests and
deacons in the church.82 Today, Catholic theology for the most part does not understand this as
referring back to a single institutional act by Jesus. For matters of divine right (ius divinum) can well
come into being through historical developments during the apostolic age or later, but these are in
accord with the gospel and have ongoing importance for its communication. What results from such a
process expresses the true structure of the church, while bearing features of historic contingency.
Because the Holy Spirit guides the church along its way, Catholics are convinced that the very early
and lasting development of the threefold ministry must be understood as the formation of a basic
structure which, having once evolved, is from then on irreversible and belongs to the fullness of the
nature of the church.
282. Lutherans teach the continuity of the church and emphasize "that at all times there must be and
remain one holy, Christian church."83 Therefore the history of the ministry from the time of the New
Testament onwards is also part of their history, which as the history of the church is unthinkable
without the Holy Spirit. Lutherans, to be sure, want it to be taken into account that their forebears in the
sixteenth century could not perceive or experience the office of bishop as an office of unity in faith, but
that they were instead faced with a choice between fidelity to the gospel and submission to the
bishops, which constrained them to give precedence to the former over the latter. Precisely because
they held ministerial office to be essential for the existence of the church, they had to practice
presbyterial ordination because the Catholic bishops refused to ordain Lutheran theologians. They did
so while being conscious that the office is essentially one, and being certain that the Holy Spirit is at
work in their ordinations. It is almost universally the practice in Lutheran churches today that the
responsibility for ordaining pastors is assigned to persons who hold supra-local office. Thus, it is not a
matter of controversy between Lutherans and Catholics that bishops (or other supra-local office
holders in Lutheran churches) are those who perform ordinations.
283. What is in dispute between Lutherans and Catholics is neither the differentiation nor the
distinction between a more local and a more regional ministry, nor that ordination belongs to the
regional ministry. The controversy is instead over what makes a person a rightful holder of a regional
ministry and what grounds the power to ordain. At issue is apostolic succession in episcopal office.
What is the significance of prayer and the laying on of hands by other bishops and of incorporation into
the Roman Catholic episcopal college of bishops in communion with the Pope? It is Catholic doctrine
that the practice and doctrine of apostolic succession in the episcopate is, together with the threefold
ministry, part of the complete structure of the church. This succession is realized in a corporate
manner as bishops are taken into the college of Catholic bishops and thereby have the power to
ordain. Therefore it is also Catholic doctrine that in Lutheran churches the sacramental sign of
ordination is not fully present because those who ordain do not act in communion with the Catholic
episcopal college.84 Therefore the Second Vatican Council speaks of a defectus sacramenti ordinis
(UR 22) in these churches.
284. A further difference is connected with the preceding one. "For Lutherans the local congregation is
church in the full sense, for Catholics it is the local church led by a bishop."85 The special importance
accorded to the bishop according to Catholic doctrine derives from his special task of ensuring the
unity of the eucharistic congregations in his local church and the unity of his local church with other
local churches. He is the connecting link between the local, the regional and the universal levels of the
church. He holds that function of course only as a member of the college of bishops under the head of
this college, the Pope. According to Catholic teaching the legitimacy and the authenticity of the
ministry depend on this visible and physical mediation of catholicity. Consequently, ordination by a
member of the college of bishops is the efficacious sacramental sign that the office is characterized in
its origins by an essential association with the apostolic tradition and the universal church.
285. When Lutherans say that the local church is church in the full sense, they presuppose that the
congregation assembled for worship stands in an essential relation to the universal church. This is so
because the local church is not the whole church although it is wholly church. This relation to the
universal church is not something secondary, subsequently added to the worshiping congregation, but
is already always intrinsic to it. So this is not the point at which Lutheran and Catholic conceptions
diverge. But they answer differently the question of how this relation with the universal church is
mediated personally and institutionally. According to Lutheran understanding, a spiritual reality cannot
be without a physical, perceptible dimension, because the Holy Spirit creates and maintains faith and
the church by making use of the physical word of proclamation and sacraments as means.
286. Lutherans hold that the universal church is perceptibly present in the congregation at worship
through those elements which were treated in Part 2 of this study: that is, through Holy Scripture,
which is the authoritative witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ; through the creeds of the Early
Church, in which one confesses a shared understanding of the gospel; through baptism by which
individuals are taken into the body of Christ; through the common prayers, such as the Lord's Prayer,
the Psalms, along with the Benedictus, Magnificat and Nunc dimittis; through the Ten Commandments
and the double commandment of love as principles of living; and through ordination, which is indeed
performed in an individual church but is in its intention ordination to ministry in the one church, which is
understood as God-given. The differentiation and alignment of individual congregations and the local
church or diocese is taken for granted in Lutheran churches. Where size permits, bishops or the
agencies of church leadership of the regional churches meet within a larger, mostly national,
287. The communion of Lutheran churches in a worldwide framework is less developed. The
competency of leadership bodies above the level of the individual churches and the binding force of
their decisions for these churches is variously regulated and insufficiently clarified. Lutherans have
different views with regard to whether there ought to be an institutional exercise of a universal ministry
of unity and, in such a case, how such a ministry should be structured. But there is no controversy
between Lutherans and Catholics concerning the essential relation between each worshipping
congregation and the universal church; nor do we differ over this relation being perceptibly
represented and mediated in diverse ways. But there is a dispute about what intensity and what
structure this relation to the universal church must have for the worshipping congregations and
individual to be in accord with their apostolic mission.
3.6.3 An Ecumenical Perspective on These Differences
288. For apostolic succession, succession in faith is the essential aspect. Without this, succession in
office would lack all value. The ministry is service to the apostolic gospel. But now, the Joint
Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification has ascertained the existence of a "consensus in basic
truths of the doctrine of justification" between the Catholic Church and Lutheran churches. This shows
a high degree of agreement in faith, that is, in that which represents the heart of apostolic succession.
According to the Joint Declaration, the doctrine of justification is "the measure and touchstone for the
Christian faith", of which it is said, "No teaching may contradict this criterion."86 The Catholic view of the
ministry of the Lutheran churches, along with the Lutheran view of ministry in the Roman Catholic
Church, cannot remain untouched by the Joint Declaration. For, even if preserving correct doctrine is
not the task of the ordained ministry alone, it is still its specific task to teach and proclaim the gospel
publicly. The signing of the Joint Declaration therefore implies the acknowledgement that the ordained
ministry in both churches has by the power of the Holy Spirit fulfilled its service of maintaining fidelity to
the apostolic gospel regarding the central questions of faith set forth in the Declaration.
289. The relation between the offices of priest and bishop has been defined in different ways in the
history of the Catholic Church. Hence it is of great importance that what happened at the time of the
Reformation be judged today by Catholics in an historically differentiated manner. According to the
Second Vatican Council, "the function of the bishops' ministry was handed over in a subordinate
degree to priests" (PO 2). The fullness of ministerial office is present in the bishop's office, with the
consecration of bishops being understood sacramentally. In medieval times, this was not the case, at
least for a very broad spectrum. Instead, following Jerome, the bishop's office was fundamentally
equated with the pastoral office, while certain functions reserved to the bishop were matters of canon
law. Since this conception was cited in Gratian's Decree, the Reformers could not regard presbyterial
ordination as a break with tradition, especially since they wished to retain the episcopal office in the
church, as they asserted repeatedly.87 But, as was shown above, they faced a situation in which for
them the elements of apostolicity of ministry, that is, fidelity to the apostolic gospel and canonical
ordination by a bishop, had come into conflict with one another, so that they had to make a decision.
They opted for fidelity to the apostolic tradition, as they understood it. This should be taken into
consideration when Catholics assess the development of the ministry in Lutheran churches.
290. In the course of nearly 2000 years of history, the ministries of the Catholic Church have
undergone far-reaching structural changes, while retaining the same names. These have been
sketched earlier in this Part. While for Ignatius of Antioch the bishop had to preside over the worship of
a community, from the fourth century onwards the bishop became increasingly the holder of a regional
office charged with care of communion between congregations celebrating the eucharist. This is a
major difference. Since that time an essential factor in the distinction between the presbyterial and
episcopal office has been the difference between local and regional leadership responsibilities. In
almost 2000 years of church history a variety of transformations have occurred in the structure of the
ministries of bishops and priests, corresponding to very different contexts. This grounds a distinction
between a fundamental form or elementary task of this office and the structures within which it is
exercised. Nor are the different interpretations of the office in theological and ecclesial doctrine merely
external, but they involve its lived reality. Catholic theology emphasizes that the fundamental form of
the office has persisted throughout these structural changes. But since the historical structural
changes are not judged to entail a contradiction of the fundamental form of the threefold ministry, the
question arises whether the structure of ministry in Lutheran churches, because of the substantial
commonalities described above, and after they have emerged in different contexts parallel with the
Catholic Church, may not be recognized as valid forms of the public ministry of word and sacrament.
291. It is Catholic doctrine that an individual bishop is not in apostolic succession by his being part of a
historically verifiable and uninterrupted chain of imposition of hands through his predecessors to one
of the apostles. It is instead essential that he be in communion with the whole order of bishops which
as a whole succeeds the apostolic college and its mission. Thus the consensus of the bishops among
themselves is the decisive sign of the apostolicity of their teaching. Catholicity is the means and
expression of apostolicity. If catholicity is a sign of apostolicity, then apostolicity is a condition for
catholicity. Thus fidelity to the apostolic gospel has priority in the interplay of traditio, successio and
communio. The internal order of those three aspects of apostolic succession is of great significance.
From this point it becomes once more clear how important is the expressed and confessed agreement
in the fundamental truths of the doctrine of justification. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes a
priestly ministry and true sacraments, by apostolic succession, in certain churches even though the
bishops of those churches are not in communion with "the bishops with Peter's successor at their
head."88 But there are now many individuals at many locations in Christendom who exercise the office
of supervision which in the Roman Catholic Church is performed by bishops. These others bear a
special responsibility for the apostolicity of doctrine in their churches, and they can do justice to this
responsibility, as the Catholic Church recognizes in the Joint Declaration. They preside over churches
and ecclesial communities, about which the Second Vatican Council asserts "that the Spirit of Christ
has not refrained from using them as means of salvation" (UR 3). But if the consensus of bishops is
the definitive sign of apostolicity of their doctrine, then Catholics cannot exclude these other episkopoi
from the circle of those whose consensus is according to the Catholic view the sign of apostolicity of
292. What has been said makes clear that regarding ministry it is not right to look for a simple either-or
between this or that understanding of ministry or between this or that institutional structure of the
ministry. But then one has to ask whether a differentiated consensus is not possible as well in the
doctrine of the ministry or ministries. For we agree that the church is apostolic on the basis of fidelity to
the apostolic gospel, that all the baptized who believe in Christ share in his priestly office, that the
ordained ministry is essential in the church for the public proclamation of the gospel in word and
sacrament, and that this ministry for its service of unity in faith is differentiated into local and regional
forms. To be sure, on ministry the situation is different from that of the doctrine of justification in that
we are dealing here not only with different forms of doctrine, but with different structures of ministries,
therefore with institutionally ordered realities which are, of course, never without an accompanying
theological interpretation. Therefore the issue is both the possibility of a differentiated consensus on
the doctrine of the ministry and an approach to the differing forms of ministry, in which one discovers
so much common ground that reciprocal recognition of ministries would be possible.
293. Such a differentiated consensus can appeal to the agreements in understanding the ordained
ministry that are set forth above, namely that the ministry's fundamental task is to serve the apostolic
gospel which is prior to the church. This service is performed in the power of the Holy Spirit, who is the
true subject who proclaims the gospel and distributes the sacraments. In human actions, the Holy
Spirit makes Christ present to human beings, awakens their faith, and gives them salvation. We
believe that the Holy Spirit is present in these actions in such a way that human beings can be assured
that Christ encounters them here in a concrete way. Nevertheless, the action of the Holy Spirit is
greater than the specific forms in which a given church realizes its service to the apostolic gospel.
Thus a spiritual judgement is possible that "some, and even very many, of the significant elements and
endowments which together go to build up and give life to the church itself" (UR 3) do exist in other
churches outside one's own church. One can go further to state about the other churches, that "the
Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation" (UR 3). That is a spiritual
judgment. A comparable spiritual judgment regarding the ministry could be possible, if one deliberately
follows the path of a differentiated consensus, as was taken by the Joint Declaration, that is, by
accepting the possibility of differing structures of ministry which realize and serve the fundamental
intention of ministerial office. Such a spiritual judgment would have to build on theological insights
such as those given here, but would also go beyond them. It is a risk to be taken while trusting in the
support of the Holy Spirit.
- JDDJ no. 16.
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- First Epistle of Clement, 42,1-4, 44,1-3, in A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Reprint, Grand Rapids, 1977), 16-17.
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- Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, 6,1, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1, 61.
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- Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, 8,1f, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1, 89-90.
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- The Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus of Rome, ed. Gregory Dix (London, 2nd ed., 1968), 15.
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- Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, III, 3, 1, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1, 415.
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- Tanner, 7.
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- This designation occurs in the “Letter of the Bishops gathered in Constantinople” of the Synod of 383 (Tanner, 30) which is a summary of what happened at the Council of 381, including the deposition of Maximus and ordination of Nectarius as Bishop of Constantinople.
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- Canons 2-3 of the Council of Constantinople. Tanner, 31-32.
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- In IV Sent, 24, 3,,2 qu 2 ad 3: “Omnis potestas spiritualis datur eum aliqua consecratione”.
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- WA 50, 632, 35 - 633, 11; LW 41, 154.
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- WA 7, 27, 17-21 (Freedom of a Christian, 1520); LW 31, 354.
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- Cf. WA 12, 178, 9f and 179, 15-21 (De instituendis ministris Ecclesiae, 1523); LW 40,
18 and 20.
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- WA 6, 407, 22-23 (To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation; 1520); LW 44, 127.
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- Cf. WA 8, 422, 20-22 (De abroganda missa privata, 1521); LW 36, 139.
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- To the Christian Nobility. WA 6, 407, 13-15; LW 44, 127.
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- WA 31/I, 211, 17-20 (Exposition of Psalm 82, 1530); LW 13, 65.
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- “ Duo sunt genera christianorum.” Decretum, Pars II, C.XII, q. 1 c. 7. Corpus iuris canonici, ed. E. Friedberg (Leipzig 1879-81), I, 678.
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- To the Christian Nobility. WA 6, 441, 24f ; LW 44, 176.
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- A Serman on Keeping Children in School. WA 30/II,526, 34 - 527, 8 and 528, 1-2.8-10.
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- Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Art. XIII, 10f. BSLK 293, 40-42.50-51. BC 220.
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- WA 12, 169-195; LW 40, 7-44.
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- “Episcopi papales nolint dare verbi ministros.” WA 12, 191, 19f; LW 40, 37.
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- WA 6, 407, 29f (To the Christian Nobility); LW 44, 128.
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- “Conventu facto communibus suffragis …” WA 12, 191, 26f; LW 40, 37.
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- Cf. also Melanchthon’s Tractatus de potestate papae, 66-70. BSLK 491, ...1-492,6; Cf. BC 340f.
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- Cf. WA 12, 191, 25f: “indubitata fide credendo, a deo gestum et factum esse.” LW 40, 37.
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- WA 50, 633, 3; LW 41, 154.
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- Apology, Art. VII/VIII, 28. BSLK 240, 40-47; BC 178, translating the Latin text of September 1531.
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- WA 6, 530, 22-31; LW 36, 62f.
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- “Homo praedicat, Spiritus operatur, minister baptisat, absolvit, Deus autem mundat et remittit etc. Nequaquam! Sed concludimus: Deus praedicat, baptisat, absolvit.” WA TR 3; 671, 10-11; No. 3868.
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- From the same remark as in the previous note: “Optime Deus, quam consolationem potest a praedicatore recipere infirma conscientia, nisi credit haec ipsa verba consolationemesse Dei, verbum Dei, sententiam Dei?” Emphasis added.
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- WA Br 1, 111, 39-41 (Letter to Abp. Albrecht of Mainz, October 31, 1517); LW 48, 47.
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- Apology, Art. XIV,2-4. BSLK 297, 11-19; BC 222f.
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- Jerome, Letter CXLVI to Evangelus; Migne, Patrologia Latina XXII, 1192-1195, and M. Luther, Resolutio Lutherana super propositione sua decima tertia de potestate papae (WA 2, 227-230). Cf. also WA 50, 65-89, especially 84f, and Melanchthon, Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, 62. BSLK 489,43-
490,20; BC 340).
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- Cf. Decretum, Pars I, Dist. XCII, c. 24. Corpus iuris canonici, ed. E. Friedberg (Leipzig 1879-81), I, 327-329. Referred to by Luther at WA 2, 230, 17-19.
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- Lombard, Sentences IV, dist. 24, cap. 12. Lombard refers to Can.1 of the Synod of Benevento (DS 703). The sentence is found in Gratian’s Decretum, Pars I, Dist. LX, c.4 (ed. Friedberg. I.227).
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- Cf. The Private Mass and the Consecration, 1533. WA 38, 237, 25-238, 10; LW 38, 196-197. Cf. also To the Christian Nobility: “According to the institution of Christ and the Apostles, every city should have a priest or bishop, as Paul says clearly in Titus 1, 5.” WA 6, 440, 21f; also 6, 440, 30-36; LW 44, 175.
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- Consilium de moderandis controversiis religionis (1535), CR 2, 745f.
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- Melanchthon, CR 4, 367f., from his formulation of the Wittenberg theologians’ reactions to the Regensburg Book.
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- Apology, Art. XIV, 1. BSLK 296, 14 - 297,1; BC 222.
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- Johannes Gropper, Enchiridion Christianae institutionis, 1538, fol. 67v, quoted from G. Kretschmar, “Die Wiederentdeckung des Konzepts der ‘Apostolischen Sukzession’ im Umkreis der Reformation,” in Das bischöfliche Amt. Kirchengeschichtliche und ökumenische Studien zur Frage des kirchlichen Amtes
(Göttingen 1999), 317, n. 29.
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- Gropper, Enchiridion, fol. 67r, citing Adversus haereses, IV, 63, quoted from G. Kretschmar, as in n. 42.
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- Melanchthon’s Werke in Auswahl, Vol.1, ed. R. Stupperich (Gütersloh, 1951), 330,19-23.
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- On Gal 1:1, in the printed text. WA 40/1, 59, 16-23; LW 26, 17.
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- On the Councils and the Church, 1539. WA 50, 634, 11-15. LW 41, 155.
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- Cf. WA Br 12, 447-485.
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- Ibid., 448, from the Editor’s Introduction.
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- Ibid., 456, 7-15. Cf. Tanner, 7.
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- WA 38, 425, 1-17; LW 53, 125.
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- “Res maxima et necessaria est omnibus ecclesiis ministerium ecclesiae et a deo solo datum et conservatum.” WA 38, 423, 21-25; LW 53, 124, with note 1.
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- CT III/1, 684
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- Cf. Summa theologiae, III, q. 63, arts. 3 and 5.
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- Roman Catholic - Lutheran Joint Commission, The Ministry in the Church (Geneva 1982), 9 (no. 20, note 23).
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- Luther, Smalkald Articles, III, 12, citing Jn 10:3. BSLK 459, 22; BC 324f.
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- The Porvoo Common Statement (1993), no. 51, cited from Together in Mission and Ministry. The Porvoo Common Statement with Essays on Mission and Ministry in Northern Europe (London 1993), p. 27.
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- Melanchthon, Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, no. 60. BSLK, 489, 30-35; BC 340. Melanchthon says explicitly that this refers to what was already affirmed in Art. 28 of both the Augsburg Confession and the Apology.
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- Roman Catholic - Lutheran Joint Commission, The Ministry in the Church (Geneva, 1982), no. 49.
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- “[D]ivina ordinatione institutam,” Council of Trent, Canon 6 on the Sacrament of Order (DS 1776; Tanner, 744).
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- Augsburg Confession, Art. VII BSLK 61.2-4; BC 42.
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- See above, no. 243.
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- Lutheran–Roman Catholic Joint Commission, Church and Justification (Geneva, 1994), no. 84.
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- JDDJ, Annex to the Official Common Statement, no. 3.
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- Augsburg Confession, Art. XXVIII; Apology, Art. XVI, 1. BC 102, 222.
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- UR 15, for the recognition, and UR 2, for the phrase cited.
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