On the Episcopate

The Confession of Dositheus 1672

The dignity of the Bishop is so necessary in the Church, that without him, neither Church nor Christian could either be or be spoken of. For he, as a successor of the Apostles, having received in continued succession by the imposition of hands and the invocation of the All-holy Spirit the grace that is given him of the Lord of binding and loosing, is a living image of God upon the earth, and by a most ample participation of the operation of the Holy Spirit, who is the chief functionary, is a fountain of all the Mysteries [Sacraments] of the Catholic Church, through which we obtain salvation.

And he is, we suppose, as necessary to the Church as breath is to man, or the sun to the world. It has also been elegantly said by some in commendation of the dignity of the High Priesthood, “What God is in the heavenly Church of the first-born, (cf. Hebrews 12:23) and the sun in the world, that every High Priest is in his own particular Church, as through him the flock is enlightened, and nourished, and becomes the temple of God.” (cf. Ephesians 2:21)

It is obvious that this great mystery and dignity of the Episcopate has come down to us by a continued succession. For since the Lord has promised to be with us always, although He is with us by other means of grace and Divine operations, yet in a more eminent manner does He make us His own and dwell with us through the Bishop as chief functionary and through the divine Mysteries [sacraments] is united with us.  The Bishop is the first minister, and chief functionary, through the Holy Spirit, and does not allow us to fall into heresy. And, therefore [John] of Damascus, in his Fourth Epistle to the Africans, said that the Catholic Church is everywhere committed to the  care of the Bishops.  Clement, the first Bishop of the Romans, and Evodius at Antioch, and Mark at Alexandria, were acknowledged successors of Peter. Also [acknowledged] is that the divine Andrew seated Stachys on the Throne of Constantinople, in his own stead; and that in this great holy city of Jerusalem our Lord Himself appointed James, and that after James another succeeded, and then another, until our own times. And, therefore, Tertullian in his Epistle to Papianus called all Bishops the Apostles’ successors. To their succession to the Apostles’ dignity and authority Eusebius, the [friend] of Pamphilus, testifies, and all the Fathers testify, of whom it is needless to give a list. The common and most ancient custom of the Catholic Church confirms this .

And that the dignity of the Episcopate differs from that of the simple Priest, is obvious. For the Priest is ordained by the Bishop, but a Bishop is not ordained by a Priest, but by two or three High Priests, as the Apostolic Canon directs. And the Priest is chosen by the Bishop, but the High Priest is not chosen by the Priests or Presbyters, nor is he chosen by secular Princes, but by the Synod of the Primatial Church of that country, in which is situated the city that is to receive the ordinand, or at least by the Synod of the Province in which he is to become a Bishop. Or, if the city should choose him, it does not do so absolutely, but the election is referred to the Synod. And if it appear that he has [been chosen] agreeably to the Canons, the [Bishop] Elect  is advanced by ordination by the Bishops, with the invocation of the All-holy Spirit.  But if not, he whom the Synod chooses is advanced .

The [simple] Priest, indeed, retains to himself the authority and grace of the Priesthood, which he has received; but the Bishop imparts it to others also. And the one having received the dignity of the Priesthood from the Bishop, can only perform Holy Baptism, and Prayer-oil, minister sacrificially the unbloody Sacrifice, and impart to the people the All-holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, anoint the baptized with the Holy Myron [Chrism oil], crown the Faithful legally marrying, pray for the sick, and that all men may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4) and especially for the remission and forgiveness of the sins of the Faithful, living and dead. And if he be eminent for experience and virtue, receiving his authority from the Bishop, he directs those Faithful that come unto him, and guides them into the way of possessing the heavenly kingdom, and is appointed a preacher of the sacred Gospel.

The High Priest is also the minister of all these, since he is in fact, as has been said before, the fountain of the Divine Mysteries and graces, through the Holy Spirit, and he alone consecrates the Holy Myron [Chrism oil]. And the ordinations of all orders and degrees in the Church are proper to him; and in a primary and highest sense he binds and looses, and his sentence is approved by God, as the Lord hath promised. (Matthew 16:19) And he preaches the Sacred Gospel, and contends for the Orthodox faith, and those that refuse to hear he casts out of the Church as heathens and publicans, (cf. Matthew 18:17) and he puts heretics under excommunication and anathema, and lays down his own life for the sheep. (cf. John 10:11) From which it is apparent, that without contradiction the Bishop differs from the simple Priest, and that without him all the Priests in the world could not exercise the pastorate in the Church of God, or govern it at all.

But it is well said by one of the Fathers, that it is not easy to find a heretic that has understanding. For when these forsake the Church, they are forsaken by the Holy Spirit, and there remains in them neither understanding nor light, but only darkness and blindness. For if that had not happened to them, they would not have opposed things that are most plain; among which is the truly great mystery of Episcopacy, which is taught by Scripture, written of, and witnessed to, both by all ecclesiastical history and the writings of holy men, and always held and acknowledged by the Catholic Church. (Decree 10)

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