Bishop (in the Church)

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If we center our attention on the diocesan bishop (or ordinarius loci ) as distinct from auxiliary bishop or coadjutor bishop, we may define a bishop as one who in unity with and with due dependence on the supreme pontiff possesses in a local Church, or diocese, proper and complete power, priestly, doctrinal, and pastoral. His power is said to be proper because, though it is exercised in the name of Christ, it is not exercised in the name of, or as vicar of, the Roman pontiff. And, while subordinate to the supreme power in the Church, it is complete in the sense that ordinarily without the consent of other persons or groups it is adequate and valid for all ecclesiastical acts. The bishop is, then, the high priest, the teacher, the shepherd of the faithful within the diocese.

Diocesan Bishops in the Early Church. The first documented examples we have of church leaders whose role corresponds to that of diocesan bishops as described above, are found in the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch, which in the judgment of most scholars were written about the year 115. In these letters, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, Onesimus of Ephesus, Damas of Magnesia, Polybius of Tralles, and the unnamed bishop of Philadelphia, are clearly described as bishops who have the pastoral care of the whole Christian community of a city, assisted by a council of presbyters and a number of deacons, all of whom, along with the faithful, are subject to the authority of the bishop. Ignatius strongly affirms that bishops receive their authority from God, but he nowhere explains this authority as derived from the mandate which Christ gave to the apostles. There is no hint in his letters of the notion of apostolic succession in the episcopate, nor does he tell us how he or any other bishop was chosen or installed in his office. From his observation that the presbyters of the church of Magnesia had not taken advantage of the youthfulness of their bishop, it is clear that a young man could be chosen bishop. This might indicate that the choice could be based on the presence of charismatic gifts in a candidate. Ignatius speaks of his own gift of prophesy in his letter to the Philadelphians, 7. In a number of places he associates the presbyters with the bishop in such a way as to show that there was still a strong collegial element in the governance of the local church. In the judgment of most scholars today, the system whereby the Christian community of each city was led by one bishop was preceded by a system of collegial leadership exercised by a group of men sometimes called episkopoi but more often called presbuteroi. This is what we find in the later books of the New Testament and in some documents of the very early church.

St. Paul began his letter to the Philippians with a greeting to the community along with the episkopois and diakonois. Here the word episkopois in the plural is correctly translated "overseers" rather than "bishops," since a bishop is the individual leader of a local church. In his account of the farewell address of Paul to the leaders

of the church of Ephesus, Luke refers to them as "presbyters," but he has Paul say that the holy Spirit has appointed them episkopous in the church of God (Acts 20:17.28). That the same persons could be called by either of these names is also indicated in the letter to Titus, 1:57. The fact that the word episkopon is in the singular both in Ti 1:7 and in 1 Tim 3:2 does not indicate the presence of a single bishop in the Pastorals, since in both cases the construction is rightly understood as a generic singular. While in the New Testament there is considerable variety in the terms used of those who are left in charge of local churches, what is consistent is the use of the plural in referring to them. Examples of this, in addition to those just mentioned, are: "those who are laboring among you and are over you in the Lord" (1 Thes 5:12); "the household of Stephanas" (1 Cor 15:15); "your leaders" (Heb 13:17); "presbyters in each church" (Acts 14:23); "the presbyters among you" (1 Pt 5:1); "presbyters who preside well" (1 Tm 5:17); "appoint presbyters in every town" (Ti 1:5). There is no evidence in the New Testament that any apostle or evangelist who founded a local church left one individual as "bishop" in charge of it.

That the church of Corinth continued to be led by a college of presbyters rather than by a single bishop in the last decade of the first century, is attested by the Letter of the Romans to the Corinthians, also known as 1 Clement, usually dated to about 96. This letter attributes to the apostles not only the appointment of the first generation of episkopoi and diakonoi, but also the provision for regular succession in this ministry. However, this did not mean a succession of single bishops in each church, as there is no evidence of the presence of such a bishop in the church of Corinth at this time. The letter consistently refers to the leaders of that church as presbyters, urging those guilty of schism to submit to them, and "let the flock of Christ be at peace with its duly appointed presbyters." (1 Clement 54). Some have taken the authorship of this letter by Clement (attested by Dionysius, bishop of Corinth around 170) as proof of the presence of a single bishop in the church of Rome at this time, but it is also possible that he was a presbyter deputed to correspond with other churches. Most scholars now think that the leadership of the church of Rome would have resembled that of Corinth at the time this letter was written.

An early Christian writing known as the Shepherd of Hermas provides evidence that the church of Rome continued to be led by a group of presbyters for some decades of the second century. There is general agreement among scholars that the author of this work was a lay member of the Roman church who wrote it over an extended period during the first half of the second century. When he referred to those in charge of the church he consistently used the plural, sometimes speaking of "bishops," but also of "the presbyters who preside over the church, "the leaders of the church" and "those who occupy the first seats." From the absence of any reference to one bishop, and the several references in the plural to leaders and presbyters, most scholars conclude that at the time this work was written the church of Rome still had collegial leadership.

One of the bishops with whom Ignatius of Antioch stayed on his way to Rome, and to whom he wrote one of his letters, was Polycarp of Smyrna. Not long after Ignatius had gone on to his martyrdom, Polycarp wrote a letter to the church of Philippi, in response to one he had received from there. It is noteworthy that whereas Ignatius had consistently exhorted the Christian communities to be subject to their bishop as to God and Christ, Polycarp urged the Philippians to be obedient to their presbyters and deacons as to God and Christ. His letter also contains a fairly lengthy description of the pastoral ministry incumbent on the presbyters, but no mention of a bishop. One can hardly explain the complete absence of any reference to the bishop of Philippi if there had been one there at the time this letter was written. (One cannot so argue from the absence of any reference to a bishop in Ignatius' letter to the Romans, since the theme of that letter is so different from that of all the others).

From the Shepherd of Hermas and the letter of Polycarp, most scholars conclude that around the year 120 the churches of Rome and Philippi were still led by a group of presbyters, at a time when the churches in Syria and western Asia Minor each had a bishop clearly distinct from the presbyters. However, about 50 years later a Christian writer named Hegesippus described a journey he made from the East to Rome, during which he spent some days with the bishop of Corinth. He says that in Rome he made a list of the bishops who had led that church up to the time of Anicetus, Soter and Eleutherus, whose episcopates are calculated to span the years from 155 to 189. St. Irenaeus also describes a visit which Polycarp of Smyrna made to Rome while Anicetus was bishop there. From the testimony of Hegesippus, cited by Eusebius (Hist Eccl. 4:22), along with the writings of Irenaeus and Tertullian, and The Apostolic Tradition attributed to Hippolytus, there can be little doubt about the fact that by the end of the second century the church in each city was being led by a single bishop, assisted by a council of presbyters.

The conclusion to which this evidence has led most scholars is that during the course of the second century, but at different rates of speed in different regions, there was a development from the leadership of local churches by a college of presbyters, to the leadership of a single bishop. They are convinced that such a development took place also in the church of Rome, despite the fact that Irenaeus names the men who had succeeded one another as bishops of that church, beginning with Linus, who he says was appointed by its founding apostles, Peter and Paul (Adv. Haer. III:3,3). However, just as scholars have good reason to question the description of Peter and Paul as founders of the church of Rome, they also have good reason to question the use of the term "bishops" of those who were remembered late in the second century for their role of leadership in the church of Rome a century before. It seems more likely that at that early period these men had been the outstanding teachers and presiders among the Roman presbyters.

In any case, from the writings of Irenaeus, Tertullian and Origen it is certain that by the third century orthodox Christian communities everywhere recognized their bishops as the successors to the apostles in their role as pastors and teachers. On the other hand, there is no solid evidence to support a notion of apostolic succession according to which the apostles ordained a bishop for each of the churches they founded, and provided for a succession of such bishops. Rather, there are good grounds for the opinion held by most scholars today, that the episcopate was the result of a development that took place during the second century, in response to the need for stronger leadership to counter the threat to the faith and unity of the church posed by Gnosticism. The question on which churches are divided is whether this development should be understood as a purely human response to the contemporary need for stronger leadership, or should rather be seen as so evidently guided by the holy Spirit that the episcopate must be recognized as corresponding to God's design, and therefore as a divinelywilled element of the permanent structure of the church. For a presentation of the latter view, which is that of the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches, see apostol ic succession.

Diocesan Bishops in Vatican II Documents. The theology of the episcopacy as refined at the Second Vatican Council is found chiefly in two documents: Lumen gentium, the "Constitution on the Church" (chapter III) and Christus Dominus, the "Decree on the Bishops'Pastoral Office in the Church", the second closely related to the first. The Constitution has as it basic premise that Christ established the Apostles as a collectivity ("college"), and that this college continues to subsist in the college of bishopswho are successors to the Apostles insofar as they form and are participants in this college, continuing its functions in the world.

Bishops are the successors of the apostles as pastors of the Church (LG 20) and vicars and legates of Christ (LG 28). Although the Constitution does not speak of bishops as vicars of the Roman Pontiff (LG 27), the Second Vatican Council developed a theology of the episcopacy that balances and complements the teaching on the universal primacy of the papacy defined at the First Vatican Council (1870). Vatican II confirmed the teaching of Vatican I regarding the institution, the permanence, the nature and import of the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and his infallible teaching office (LG 18). Lumen gentium teaches that the Roman Pontiff is the visible source and foundation of the unity of the Church both in faith and in communion, but it situated this teaching within a theology of the episcopacy that balances and complements the teaching on the papacy of Vatican I by its emphasis on collegiality. Thus the teaching on the episcopacy provides a context for the teaching on the pope and yet is itself interpreted within a teaching on papal authority.

Bishops are the successors of the apostles as pastors of the Church (LG 20) and vicars and legates of Christ (LG 28). Although the Constitution does not speak of bishops as vicars of the Roman Pontiff (LG 27), the Second Vatican Council developed a theology of the episcopacy that balances and complements the teaching on the universal primacy of the papacy defined at the First Vatican Council (1870). Vatican II confirmed the teaching of Vatican I regarding the institution, the permanence, the nature and import of the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and his infallible teaching office (LG 18). Lumen gentium teaches that the Roman Pontiff is the visible source and foundation of the unity of the Church both in faith and in communion, but it situated this teaching within a theology of the episcopacy that balances and complements the teaching on the papacy of Vatican I by its emphasis on collegiality. Thus the teaching on the episcopacy provides a context for the teaching on the pope and yet is itself interpreted within a teaching on papal authority.

Bishops represent an historical continuation of the apostolic office and therefore are essential to the Roman Catholic understanding of the apostolicity of the church. The early church spoke of bishops as "vicars of Christ," but the title had come to be reserved to the pope since about the eighth century. Vatican II restores it to all bishops, thus indicating the spirit in which they are to undertake their office.

Collegiality. The episcopacy is considered to be a hierarchical office in the church by divine institution (LG 20), meaning that the office of the episcopacy is a necessary element in the church.

By virtue of their episcopal consecration and hierarchical communion with the Bishop of Rome and other bishops, they constitute a college or permanent assembly whose head is the Bishop of Rome (LG 19, 22). If a bishop refuses the apostolic communion, he cannot be admitted to office (LG 24). A bishop represents his own church within this college and all the bishops, together with the pope, represent the whole church (LG 22). The college of bishops does not constitute a legislative body apart from the pope, but includes the pope as member and head of the college.

As a member and head of the college of bishops, the Roman Pontiff is infallible when he proclaims in a definitive act a doctrine on faith or morals. The church's infallibility is also present in the body of bishops when, in union with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme teaching office in ecumenical council. Although an individual bishop does not possess the prerogative of infallibility, bishops teach infallibly "even though dispersed throughout the world, but maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, when in teaching authentically matters concerning faith and morals they agree about a judgment as one that has to be definitively held" (LG 25).

The episcopal college exercises its collegiality in a preeminent way in an ecumenical council. All bishops who are members of the episcopal college have the right to take part in an ecumenical council (Christus Dominus 4). The bishops as a college together with the pope and never apart from him have supreme and full authority over the universal Church (LG 22). This is exercised in an ecumenical council. However, they can also exercise collegiate power even while living in different parts of the world if the head of the college summons them to this collegiate action or at least approves or freely admits the corporate action of the unassembled bishops (CD 4). Bishops chosen from different parts of the world may also serve in a council called the Synod of Bishops where they act on behalf of the whole catholic episcopate (CD 5). Since the Second Vatican Council, the Synod of bishops has acted in a consultative capacity to the Pope.

Episcopal conferences usually are another form of collegial activity. An episcopal conference "is a kind of assembly in which the bishops of some nation or region discharge their pastoral office in collaboration, the better to promote the good which the church offers to people, and especially through forms and methods of apostolate carefully designed to meet contemporary conditions" (CD 38.1). The decisions of an episcopal conference have binding force in law provided that: 1) "they have been made legitimately and by at least a two-thirds majority of the votes of the prelates who are members of the conference with a deliberative vote"; 2) "that these decisions have been approved by the apostolic see;" and (3) "that they apply only to matters that have been prescribed by common law or enacted by special mandate of the apostolic see acting on its own initiative or in response to a petition made by the conference itself" (CD 38.4). The decisions of episcopal conferences are implemented on the conjoint authority of the bishops.

Collegiality is also exercised by the solicitude of the bishops for all the churches. This care for the other churches is exercised by contributing financial resources, by training lay and religious ministers for the missions, and contributing the services of diocesan priests to regions lacking clergy (CD 6).

Threefold Office: Priest, Prophet, and King. The episcopal office is described according to the threefold designation of priest, prophet and king that Lumen Gentium also uses to describe the people of God in Chapter 2 of Lumen Gentium and the laity in Chapter 4. It is significant that Vatican II first describes the church in its threefold relationship to Christ and then its ministers. However, the image of shepherd replaces that of king when this threefold office is applied to bishops (LG 20) Bishops are teachers of doctrine (prophet), ministers of sacred worship (priest) and holders of office in government (shepherd) (LG 20).

Vatican II teaches that the fullness of the sacrament of Orders is conferred by episcopal consecration (LG 21, 26; CD 15). The bishop is "the steward of the supreme priesthood," especially in the eucharist (LG 26). All priests share in and exercise the one priesthood of Christ (CD 28). Priesthood is a sharing in the office of Christ the one mediator (see 1 Tm 2:5) (LG 28).

The bishop has the responsibility of regulating the sacraments, especially every legitimate celebration of the Eucharist. He is the original minister of Confirmation, the dispenser of sacred orders, and the director of penitential discipline.

The bishop is the one primarily responsible for the life of the Church in his diocese. As an individual bishop he exercises his pastoral office of this church and not over other churches nor the church universal. By virtue of this ordination, a bishop's authority is proper, ordinary, and immediate (LG 27), meaning that a bishop possesses authority by virtue of his ordination that is not juridically delegated by the Bishop of Rome. The exercise of their authority, however, is ultimately controlled by the supreme authority of the Church and can be confined within certain limits if the pastoral care of the church requires this (CD 8a).

In Roman Catholicism the basic unit of the church is a particular church, usually a diocese, defined as an "altar community under the sacred ministry of the bishop" (LG 26). The bishop is responsible for the unity and communion of this church with the other churches. He exercises his pastoral office of this church and not over other churches or the church universal (LG 23), although he has a responsibility to have care and solicitude for the whole Church (LG 23). Administratively the particular church is a diocese, "a section of the People of God entrusted to a bishop" (CD 11). The "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is present and active" in the particular church (CD 11).

Episcopal Duties. Among principal tasks of bishops, the preaching of the gospel is pre-eminent (LG 25, CD 12). The duties of bishops are described with reference to his prophetic, priestly, and pastoral office.

Prophetic office. In their teaching function they must:

Pursue their apostolic work as witnesses of Christ to all people (CD 11).

Give themselves wholeheartedly to those who have wandered from the path of truth or who know nothing of the gospel of Christ and his saving mercy (CD 11).

Call all people to faith or strengthen them in living faith (CD 12).

Expound the mystery of Christ in its entirety, including those truth ignorance of which is ignorance of Christ (CD 12).

Point out the way divinely revealed for giving glory to God and thereby attaining eternal happiness (CD 12).

Show that the material things of life and human institutions can also be directed to the salvation of humanity and contribute substantially to building up the body of Christ (CD 12).

Expound in accord with the teaching of the church the inestimable value of the human person; her or his freedom and bodily vitality; the family and its unity and stability; the betting and educating of children; social structures with their laws and professions; labour and leisure, arts and technology; poverty and affluence (CD 12).

Propose methods for finding an answer to questions of the utmost gravity: the ownership, increase, and just distribution of material wealth; peace and war; the effective fellowship of all peoples (CD 12).

Present the doctrine of Christ in a manner suited to the needs of the times. Such teaching should deal with the most pressing difficulties and problems which weigh people down. Preserve this doctrine and teach the faithful themselves to defend it and spread it (CD 13).

Make evident the maternal solicitude of the church for everyone whether they are believers or not (CD 13).

Take particular care to further the interests of the poor and the underprivileged to whom the Lord has sent them to preach the gospel (CD 13).

Make an approach to people, seeking and promoting dialogue with them. If truth is constantly to be accompanied by charity and understanding by love, in such salutary discussions they should present their positions in clear language, unaggressively and diplomatically. Likewise they should show due prudence combined with confidence, for this is what brings about union of minds by encouraging friendship (CD 13).

Employ the various means of communication which are at hand at the present time to make known christian doctrine. This applies especially to preaching and catechetical instruction, which clearly come first in order of importance (CD 13).

Ensure that catechetical instruction is given to children, adolescents, young people and even adults. They should also ensure that in giving this instruction a suitable order and method are followed, accommodated not only to the subject matter but also to the disposition, aptitude, age and environment of the hearers. Let hem also ensure that this instruction is based on sacred scripture, tradition, liturgy, the teaching authority and life of the church (CD 14).

See that catechists are properly trained for their work (CD 14).

See to it that the instruction of adult catechumens is restored or improved (CD 14).

Priestly Office. In their office of sanctification, bishops are the principle stewards of the mysteries of God as well as directors, promoters and guardians of the whole liturgical life in the church which has been entrusted to them (CD 15). They should:

Make it their constant endeavor that the faithful acquire a deeper knowledge of the paschal mystery, and so live through the eucharist that they may form one closely-knit body unity in the love of Christ (CD 15).

Make a real effort to bring about that all those who have been entrusted to their care are of one mind in prayer and grow in grace through the reception of the sacraments, becoming faithful witnesses to the Lord (CD 15).

Be zealous in promoting the holy living of their clergy, religious and laity according to each one's particular vocation, bearing in mind that they themselves are obliged to show an example of holiness in charity, humility and simplicity of life (CD 15).

Let them so sanctify the churches entrusted to them that in these churches will be fully sensed the enlightening presence of the whole church of Christ (CD 15).

Encourage in every way vocations to the priesthood and to religious life, giving special attention to vocations to missionary work (CD 15).

Pastoral Office. In their paternal and pastoral function, bishops should:

Be in the midst of their flock as those who serve, be good shepherds who know their own sheep and whose sheep know them, be true fathers who manifest a spirit of love and care for all. Form their flock into a union of charity (CD 16).

Hold priests in special regard and treat them like sons and friends, listening to them in an atmosphere of mutual trust. Look after their spiritual, intellectual and material wellbeing (CD 16, PO 7). Support courses of study and arrange special conferences. Take care of priests who are in danger of any kind or who have failed in some way (CD 16). "Their chief and most serious responsibility is the holiness of their priests: so they should take the utmost trouble over the continuing formation of their body of priests" (PO 7).

Be better prepared to give guidance for the welfare of the faithful according to the circumstances of each. Strive to acquire an accurate knowledge of their needs in the social conditions in which they live. Show themselves to be concerned for all. Respect the place proper to their faithful in the affairs of the church, acknowledging also their duty and right to work actively for the buildings up of the mystical body of Christ.

Cultivate friendly relations with separated fellow Christians and urge the faithful to treat them with real warmth and kindness. Foster ecumenism as understood by the church. Have a friendly regard for the non-baptized (CD 16).

Encourage and direct different forms of apostolate (CD 17).

Urge the laity to exercise their apostolate according to each one's capacity and circumstances (CD 17).

Adapt forms of the apostolate to the needs of the day, having regard to the conditions in which people live, not only spiritual and moral but also social, demographic and economic. Social and religious research is strongly recommended (CD 17).

Show special care for those who, because of the conditions in which they live, can get little or no benefit from the general pastoral care of parish priests: immigrants, exiles, refugees, sailors, people in aviation, gypsies, holiday-makers temporarily living outside their own region (CD 18).

See Also: bishop (in the bible); bishop (sacramental theology of); bishop, diocesan (canon law); apostolic succession; authority, ecclesiastical; episcopal conferences; infallibility; office, ecclesiastical; primacy of the pope.

Bibliography: k. e. kirk, ed., The Apostolic Ministry (London 1946). j. colson, L'Évêque dans les communautés primitives (Paris 1951). k rahner and j. ratzinger, The Episcopate and the Primacy (New York 1962). j. colson, L'Épiscopat catholique: Collegialité et primauté dans les trois premiers siècles (Paris 1963). h. bouËssÉ and a. mandouze, L'Évêque dans l'Église de Christ (Bruges/Paris 1963). w. onclin, La charge pastorale des évêques (Paris 1969). r. e. brown, Priest and Bishop. Biblical Reflections (Mahwah 1970). j. delorme, Le ministère et les ministères selon le N.T. (Paris 1974). a. lemaire, Ministry in the Church (London 1977). h. chadwick et al., The Role of the Bishop in the Ancient Society (Berkeley 1980). e. g. jay, "From Presbyter-Bishops to Bishops and Presbyters: Christian Ministry in the Second Century," Second Century 1 (1981) 12562. u. betti, La dottrina sull'episcopato del Concilio Vaticano II (Rome 1984). a. cunningham, The Bishop in the Church (Wilmington 1985). f.a. sullivan, From Apostles to Bishops (New York/Mahwah 2001). j. beal, j. coriden, t. green, eds., New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law. (New York/Mahwah 2000). e. caparros, m. theriault, j. thorn, eds., Code of Canon Law Annotated (English) (Montreal 1993). g. sheehy, et al., eds. The Canon Law: Letter and Spirit (Collegeville, Minn. 1995). A Manual for Bishops: Rights and Responsibilities of Diocesan Bishops in the Revised Code of Canon Law (Washington 1992).

[f. a. sullivan/

s. k. wood]