If a man were to be ordained priest without having first
been ordained deacon, or consecrated bishop without first having
been ordained priest, is that ordination deemed to be valid and in
accord with the Catholic faith and order of the Church of
John Gibaut, in Sequential or Direct Ordination? A Return to
the sources (JLS 55, Grove, 2003), notes that in the early
centuries of the Church we find "instances of deacons becoming
bishops, members of the laity becoming bishops, members of the
laity becoming presbyters, and presbyters becoming bishops".
Examples of such "direct ordinations" include "Ambrose of Milan
or Nectarius of Constantinople . . . ordained only to the
episcopate, without any preparatory ordinations to the diaconate or
presbyterate. It is also clear that others, such as Augustine of
Hippo or Gregory of Nazianzus, were presbyters prior to episcopal
ordination, but had never been deacons; or that Leo the Great and
Gregory the Great had both been deacons, but never presbyters,
prior to episcopal ministry."
But the growth of the Church in early Christendom required many
more clergy, and for a while it became clear that the quality of
bishops was suffering. This was one of the reasons why sequential
ordination was introduced - though at that point it was more
normally five years, not one - to ensure a longer period for
education and assessment of clergy.
These historical precedents don't have to determine our practice
today. But it should make us very hesitant to declare that
occasional "direct" ordinations must be invalid.
(The Revd) Jonathan Clark
The most recent edition of The Oxford Dictionary of the
Christian Church (F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone) says of
ordination per saltum that "In RC canon law it is held
that such ordinations are valid, but illicit. In early times,
however, they were a common occurrence."
The practice was used in Scotland when trying to introduce
episcopacy into the the Presbyterian Church of Scotland in the
16th/17th centuries. It was also proposed for the creation of the
Church of South India, but I do not know whether it was in the
(The Revd) Eric R. Littler
I have noticed over the past several years that the
shepherds abiding in the fields have changed from being medievally
bucolic to being "disreputable characters, forbidden to act as
witnesses in court" (Features, 19/26 December). Can anyone come up
with any primary source references for this? Or is it a Christian
urban myth, like the Jerusalem gate known as the Needle's
Eye? D. G.
Address: Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd floor,
Invicta House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London EC1Y 0TG.