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Out of the question

09 January 2015

Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or would like to add to the answers below.


Your answers

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 England?

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
Stroud, Gloucestershire

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 final arrangements.

(The Revd) Eric R. Littler
Warminster, Wiltshire

Your questions

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.

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