Help Now >
FREE Catholic Classes
(Greek Hierarchia ; from hieros , sacred; archein , rule, command).
This word has been used to denote the totality of ruling powers in the Church, ever since the time of the Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita (sixth century), who consecrated the expression in his works, "The Celestial Hierarchy" and "The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy" (P. G., III, 119 and 370). According to this author and his two commentators, Pachymeres (P. G., III, 129) and Maximus (P. G., IV, 30), the word connotes the care and control of holy or sacred things, the sacer principatus . The "Hierarcha", it is here explained, is he who has actual care of these things; who, indeed, both obeys and commands, but does not obey those he commands. There is, consequently, a necessary gradation among hierarchs; and this gradation, which exists even among the angels, i.e. in the heavenly hierarchy (on which the ecclesiastical hierarchy is modelled), must a fortiori be found in a human assembly subject to sin, and in which this gradation works for peace and harmony ("S. Gregorii Reg. Epist.", V, 54, in P. L., LXXVII, 786; "Decreta Dionysii papæ", in the Hinschius ed. of the Pseudo-Isidorean Decretals, 195-6, Berlin, 1863; "Decretum" of Gratian (Pseudo-Boniface), pt. I, D. 89, c. vii). The hierarchy, therefore, connotes the totality of powers established in the Church for the guiding of man to his eternal salvation, but divided into various orders or grades, in which the inferior are subject to and yield obedience to the higher ones.
I. HIERARCHY OF ORDER AND OF JURISDICTION
It is usual to distinguish a twofold hierarchy in the Church, that of order and that of jurisdiction, corresponding to the twofold means of sanctification, grace, which comes to us principally through the sacraments, and good works, which are the fruit of grace. The hierarchy of order exercises its power over the Real Body of Christ in the Eucharist; that of jurisdiction over His Mystical Body, the Church (Catech. Conc. Trid., pt. II, c. vii, n. 6). Christ did not give to all the faithful power to administer His sacraments, except in the case of baptism and matrimony, or to offer public worship. This was reserved to those who, having received the sacrament of order, belong to the hierarchy of order. He entrusted the guidance of the faithful along the paths of duty and in the practice of good works to a religious authority, and for this purpose He established a hierarchy of jurisdiction. Moreover, He established His Church as a visible, external, and perfect society ; hence He conferred on its hierarchy the right to legislate for the good of that society. For this double purpose, the sanctification of souls and the good or welfare of religious society, the hierarchy of jurisdiction is endowed with the following rights :
- the right to frame and sanction laws which it considers useful or necessary, i.e. legislative power;
- the right to judge how the faithful observe these laws i.e. judicial power;
- the right to enforce obedience, and to punish disobedience to its laws i.e. coercive power;
- the right to make all due provision for the proper celebration of worship, i.e. administrative power.
Ordinarily, also, the teaching power (magisterium) is connected with the power of jurisdiction. It is possible, of course, to distinguish in the Church a threefold power: the potestas magisterii , or the right to teach in matters of faith and morals ; the potestas ministerii , or the right to administer the sacraments, and the potestas regiminis , or the power of jurisdiction . Christ, however, did not establish a special hierarchy for the "potestas magisterii", nor does the teaching power pertain to the power of order, as some have maintained, but rather to the power of jurisdiction . The Vatican Council , indeed, seems to connect the supreme magisterial power of the pope with his primacy of jurisdiction (Constitutio de Ecclesiâ Christi, cap. i and iv). Moreover, the power of jurisdiction implies the right of imposing on the faithful a real obligation to believe what the Church proposes. Finally, in the Church, no one can teach without a missio canonica , or authorization from ecclesiastical superiors, which brings us back again to the power of jurisdiction . Nevertheless, as a general rule, the "potestas magisterii" belongs to those only who have also the power of order, i.e. to the pope and the bishops, and cannot be separated from the latter power; the same is equally true of the power of jurisdiction (Schnell, "Die Gliederung der Kirchengewalten" in "Theologische Quartalschrift", LXXI 1889, 387 sq.). Jurisdiction is exercised in foro interno (potestas vicaria), and in foro externo. The latter aims directly at the welfare of religious society, indirectly at that of its individual members; the former deals directly with individuals, and only indirectly with the religious society as a whole.
Finally, jurisdiction is either ordinary or delegated; the first is acquired by the acceptance of specified functions to which the law itself attaches this power, that the possessor must exercise in his own name; the second is obtained by virtue of a special delegation from ecclesiastical authority, in whose name it is to be exercised.A. Hierarchy of Order
The Council of Trent has defined the Divine institution of the first three grades of the hierarchy of order, i.e. the episcopate, priesthood, and diaconate (Sess. XXIII, De sacramento ordinis, cap. iv, can. vi). The other orders, i.e. those of subdeacon, acolyte, exorcist, lector, and porter, are of ecclesiastical institution. There is some controversy about the subdiaconate. The Council of Trent did not decide the question, but only declared that Fathers and councils place the subdiaconate among the major orders (loc. cit., cap. ii). It is now pretty generally held that the subdiaconate is of ecclesiastical institution, chiefly because of the lateness of its appearance in ecclesiastical discipline. Its introduction was due to the unwillingness of certain Churches to have more than seven deacons, conformably to Apostolic practice in the Church of Jerusalem ( Acts 6:1-6 ). Furthermore, the ordination rite of subdeacons does not seem sacramental, since it contains neither the imposition of hands nor the words "Receive the Holy Ghost ". Finally, in the Eastern Catholic Churches the subdiaconate is reckoned among the minor orders. For this opinion may be quoted Urban II in the Council of Benevento in 1091 ( Hardouin "Acta Conc.", VI, ii, 1696, Paris, 1714), the "Decretum" of Gratian (pars I, dist. xxi, init.), Peter Lombard ("Sent.", Lib. IV, dist. xxiv), and others; see Benedict XIV , "De Synodo Di cesanâ.", VIII, ix, n. 10). This hierarchy of ecclesiastical origin arose at the end of the second and the beginning of the third century, and appears definitely fixed at Rome under Pope Cornelius (251-252), who tells us that in his day the Roman Church counted 46 priests, 7 deacons, 7 subdeacons, 42 acolytes, and 52 clerics of lower grades, exorcists, lectors, and porters ( Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl.", VI, 43). In the primitive Church there were also deaconesses, widows, and virgins, but these did not belong to the hierarchy properly so called, nor does Pope Cornelius include them in his list of the Roman clergy. Their principal functions were prayer, the practice of works of charity, and of hospitality ; while they performed certain liturgical functions, as in the baptism of women and at the agape, they never took any part, except by unauthorized abuse, in the ministry of the altar strictly speaking (Duchesne, "Christian Worship", London, 1904). Finally, although abbots of monasteries may confer the four minor orders, they do not constitute a special order or grade in the hierarchy. It is not by virtue of the blessing they receive from the bishop that they may confer orders, but by virtue of a privilege which canon law grants to abbots who have received such solemn blessing from a bishop (Gasparri, "Tractatus Canonicus de sacrâ ordinatione", I, iv, Paris, 1893). The Latin Church, therefore, counts eight grades in the hierarchy of order, the episcopate being counted a separate order from that of the priesthood, and ecclesiastical tonsure not being an order.
This latter point, formerly controverted by canonists, is no longer in doubt : the tonsure is, in the present discipline, a simple rite by which a layman becomes an ecclesiastic, a necessary antecedent condition for the lawful reception of orders proper, and not an order itself, except in a very inaccurate way of speaking, since the ceremony conveys no "potestas ordinis". In the Middle Ages Scholastic theologians denied that the episcopate was a distinct order from priesthood, alleging that the former is only the complement and perfection of the latter. In respect of the offering of the Holy Sacrifice the bishop, it is true, has no more power than a priest ; on the other hand, it is only a bishop who can ordain a priest ; and this difference of power implies a distinction of order. Against this distinction it has been objected that an episcopal ordination would be invalid unless the subject had first of all received sacerdotal ordination. It is true that, according to the modern practice, one should admit this theory; but formerly, especially in the case of the ordination of the bishops of Rome, the practice of the Church was different. The title De septem ordinibus, which we read in the editions of the Council of Trent (Sess. XXIII, De sacramento ordinis cap. ii), is an addition of a later period, and the council expressly declares that bishops have a power of order superior to that of priests. The Byzantine Catholic Church, as a general rule, only counts two grades of ecclesiastical institution: the subdiaconate and the lectorship. Nevertheless, ordination to the subdiaconate implies also the minor orders of acolyte and porter, and ecclesiastical tonsure is given when the bishop confers the lectorship. The order of exorcist is in reality the only one not known to the Greek Church . It considers the power of exorcising as a special gift of Divine goodness, not as something acquired by ordination. By the Constitution "Etsi pastoralis" Benedict XIV derogated from the decision of Innocent IV, and completely approved the discipline of the Greek Church on this matter (Papp-Szilàgyi, "Enchiridion juris Ecclesiæ Orientalis catholicæ", Grosswardein, 1862, 405-7). It is probable that no other minor orders were originally known to the Greek Church. In Christian antiquity, it is true, especially among the Greek Christians, we meet with many subordinate functionaries, e.g. singers (" cantores ", or "confessores"); "parabolani", who cared for the sick; "copiatæ" (fossores), or sextons who buried the dead; "defensores", who attended to ecclesiastical trials; notaries and archivists; "hermeneutæ", or interpreters, whose duty it was to translate for the people the Scriptures, also the homilies of the bishop ; with these, however, there is not question of orders, but of functions entrusted, without ordination, either to clerics or laymen ( Benedict XIV, "De Synodo Diœcesanâ.", VIII, ix, n. 8; Gasparri, "op. cit.", I, vii).
Download Now >
B. Hierarchy of Jurisdiction
In the hierarchy of jurisdiction the episcopate and the papacy are of Divine origin; all the other grades are of ecclesiastical institution. According to the Vatican Council the Bishop of Rome, as successor of St. Peter, has been established by Christ as the visible head of the whole Church militant, and possesses a real primacy of jurisdiction, in virtue of which he has supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church in matters of faith, morals, discipline, and the government of the Church. This power is ordinary and immediate over all the Churches, and over each one in particular, over all the pastors and faithful, collectively and individually (Const. de Eccl. Christi, cap. i-3). The government of the Church is strictly monarchical. The bishops are the successors of the Apostles, but do not inherit their personal prerogatives, such as universal jurisdiction and infallibility (Conc. Trid., Sess. XXIII, De sacramento ordinis, cap. iv). The pope is bound to establish bishops who enjoy genuine ordinary power in the Church ( potestas ordinaria ), and who are not merely his delegates or vicars, as some medieval theologians held. On the other hand, the theory proposed in the fifteenth century at the Councils of Constance and Basle, which made the pope subject to an œcumenical council; the Gallican theory, that would impose limits on his power by the ancient canons received in the Church, and requiring the acceptance or consent of the Church before his decisions could become irreformable; and the theory of Febronius, who maintained that the Holy See had usurped many rights which properly belonged to the bishops and that ought to be restored to them, are all equally false and opposed to the monarchical constitution of the Church (see GALLICANISM ; FEBRONIANISM ). An œcumenical council does, indeed, possess sovereign authority in the Church, but it cannot be œcumenical without the pope.
It will suffice to mention the now universally rejected opinion of Gerson and a few other doctors of the University of Paris in the Middle Ages, who held that parish priests were of Divine institution, being (in this opinion) the successors of the (72) disciples of Christ. This opinion was defended, in more recent times, by certain Jansenists, by Van Espen, and a few other canonists (Houwen, "De parochorum statu", Louvain, 1848, 7 sqq.).
The composition of the hierarchy of jurisdiction in the (Western) Catholic Church is indicated, in summary form, as follows. By virtue of his primacy, supreme authority over the whole Church belongs to the pope, who is at the same time Patriarch of the West, Primate of Italy, metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Rome, and bishop of the city of Rome. In the actual discipline of the Church, the cardinals hold second place. They are the pope's advisers in the more important matters concerning the universal Church, and exercise their jurisdiction in the various congregations, tribunals, and offices instituted by the pope for the government of the universal Church. (For the recent reorganization of the Roman Curia and the Roman Congregations, see articles under those headings; and cf. the "Sapienti Consilio" of Pius X, 29 June, 1908.) Next in order come the patriarchs. The Councils of Nicæa (325), of Constantinople (381), of Chalcedon (451) recognized in the Bishop of Rome for the West, in those of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Constantinople for the East, over the territories included within their patriarchates, a jurisdiction higher than that of archbishops. The four Eastern patriarchates, as a consequence of the Mohammedian invasion and the Greek schism, gradually lost communion with Rome, but were re-established in the Latin Rite at the time of the Crusades.
After the Fall of Constantinople (1453) the Holy See contented itself with nominating for these sees four titular patriarchs resident in Rome ; however, since 1847, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem resides in that city. Besides these ancient or "greater" patriarchs there are, in the Latin Rite, minor patriarchs, whose title is purely honorary. They are: the Patriarch of Venice (formerly Patriarch of Grado); the Patriarch of the West Indies, who resides in Spain ; the Patriarch of the East Indies ( Archbishop of Goa ); and the Patriarch of Lisbon. The Patriarchate of Aquileia was suppressed in 1751.
In the West the dignity of primate corresponds to that of exarch in the East. With the exception of the Primate of Gran ( Strigonensis ) in Hungary, primates have a mere pre-eminence of honour over metropolitans. Among the primates are the Archbishop of Salzburg (Germany), Prague (Bohemia), Gnesen-Posen and Warsaw (Poland), Toledo and Tarragona (Spain), Rouen ( France ), Armagh ( Ireland ), Venice (for Dalmatia ), Mechlin (Belgium), and Carthage ( Africa ). Metropolitans, on the other hand, have real rights over the bishops within their ecclesiastical province, and over the province itself. The bishops subject to their jurisdiction are called episcopi comprovinciales or provinciales, also suffraqanei or suffragans. Since the sixth century metropolitans have been also known as archbishops, which title they share with titular archbishops. By this term are meant archbishops who administer a diocese but have no suffragans, also archbishops merely titular, i.e. who have no jurisdiction, but only the title of some extinct archdiocese. Metropolitans are obliged at stated times to summon provincial synods, to legislate for the whole province.
After the archbishops come the bishops, who of Divine right administer the dioceses entrusted to them by the Holy See, which may determine or in a measure limit their rights. If they are not subject to the authority of an archbishop, they are known as exempt bishops, and are directly subject to the Holy See. Besides the diocesan bishops there are also titular bishops, formerly called bishops in partibus infidelium . These receive episcopal consecration, but have no jurisdiction over the dioceses of which they bear the title. They may be appointed by the pope as auxiliary bishops or coadjutors to diocesan bishops. In the eighth century there are found, in the West, chorepiscopi, i.e. auxiliary bishops and substitutes for diocesan bishops sede vacante . They had no distinct territory and ceased to exist in the ninth century.
After the bishops in the hierarchy of jurisdiction come the prælati nullius; they are more correctly styled prælati nullius cum territorio separato, and exercise episcopal authority over a territory not belonging to any diocese ; they must be carefully distinguished from the prælati nullius cum territorio conjuncto, and from superiors of exempt religious colleges, whether secular or regular. "Prælati nullius cum territorio conjuncto" exercise a quasi-episcopal authority over a territory which forms part of a diocese, whereas superiors of exempt colleges have authority only over the personnel of their own community.
In the government of his diocese the bishop is assisted by various ecclesiastics. Chief among these formerly was the archdeacon, i.e. the principal deacon of the cathedral church. In time dioceses came to be divided into several archdeaconries, the titulars of which exercised a right of surveillance over their particular territory and enjoyed extensive judicial power. The Council of Trent (1547-65) limited their powers, after which they gradually disappeared. At present the bishop's chief assistant is known as his vicar-general, an institution dating back to the thirteenth century. The members of the cathedral chapter, or canons, make up the council of the bishop, and in certain matters he may not act without their consent. Where there is no chapter, the consultores cleri diœcesani take their place, but have only a consultative voice. To the chapter belongs the right of nominating the vicar capitular, charged with administering the diocese during a vacancy. After the ninth century archpriests or deans appear, charged with the supervision of the clergy and laity in their districts; it was their duty to enforce the observance of the canons in the administration of church property.
Finally, at the head of a parish is the pastor ( parochus ), with ordinary jurisdiction. Where parishes have not been canonically erected, his place is taken by a " rector ", whose jurisdiction is merely delegated, but whose rights and duties are those of a parish priest (see RECTOR ). A few words are here pertinent concerning the manner in which the pope exercises his immediate jurisdiction in the various parts of the Catholic world. This is done principally through legates, of whom there are three kinds:
- legati nati, or incumbents of certain archdioceses to which was formerly attached the right of representing the Holy See (e.g. Canterbury ), such pre-eminence is now purely honorific;
- legati a latere, or cardinals sent by the pope on extraordinary missions or as temporary representatives;
- nuntii apostolici, i.e. ordinary representatives of the pontifical authority in certain countries; they also act as diplomatic representatives with civil governments. When they lack the latter quality they are known as Apostolic delegates.
In the Eastern Catholic Church the hierarchy in general resembles that of the West; the variations are few, and may be briefly stated as follows. The Holy See exercises its authority over Churches of the Eastern Rite through a "Congregatio pro negotiis rituum Orientalium", attached to Propaganda, but charged exclusively with questions concerning the Eastern Churches ; the Holy See acts also through Apostolic delegates. While the patriarchic organization is preserved, all patriarchs have not equal powers; some of them are even subject to Apostolic delegates. In the Maronite Church we find among the bishop's assistants an archdeacon who is also vicar-general, but has no authority over the priests ; an "œconomus", who looks after the property and revenue of the church, subject to the bishop's supervision; a "periodeuta" or bardût, charged with the supervision of the churches and the clergy of the diocese (he has also the right to consecrate baptisteries, churches, and altars, and, with the consent of the patriarch, to administer confirmation ). The " chorepiscopus " resembles the bardût, but may also give minor orders. The bishop has the right to establish a chorepiscopus wherever there is a numerous clergy ; in the cathedral city itself he is known as the archipresbyter, or chûri-episcoupe . These various functions are conferred by a rite resembling that of ordination (Silbernagl-Schnitzer, "Verfassung und gegenwärtiger Bestand sämtlicher Kirchen des Orients", Ratisbon, 1904, 346 sqq.).
The Hierarchy of the Anglican Church
The organization of the Anglican closely resembles that of the Catholic Church. In its hierarchy of order it counts three grades of Divine institution, episcopate, priesthood, and diaconate. In its hierarchy of jurisdiction come first the archbishops, some of whom have the title of primate, are at the head of an ecclesiastical province, and may convene a provincial synod or Convocation (see CONVOCATION OF THE ENGLISH CLERGY ). The bishop rules his diocese with the aid of a chancellor or vicar-general ; in the larger dioceses there are suffragan or auxiliary bishops. Chapters and deans of cathedral churches have survived, but are not active in diocesan administration. The bishop may convene a diocesan synod. The Anglicans have also retained archdeacons, deans, and pastors. At present the Anglican Church counts 15 ecclesiastical provinces , comprising 216 dioceses ; there are 33 dioceses belonging to no province, of which 24 acknowledge to some extent the Archbishop of Canterbury, 2 the Archbishop of York, 3 the Primate of Canada, 4 the Primate of Australia. There are also 42 suffragan bishops. At the time of the schism Henry VIII proclaimed himself head of the Anglican Church ; but the authority of the sovereign in church matters, even within his own dominion, has greatly lessened. The Archbishop of Canterbury enjoys a sort of pre-eminence of honour. Since 1867 a Lambeth Conference is held every ten years at London, to which all the Anglican bishops of the world are invited. In 1897 it established a "Central Consultative Body", reorganized in 1908, but without judicial authority. In spite of many efforts to unify the Anglican Church this aim has not yet been realized. (Siegmund-Schultze in "Deutsche Zeitschrift für Kirchenrecht", 1909, XLI, 52-63.)
Copyright 2020 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2020 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.
Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.