Bishop (Sacramental Theology of)

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The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (1964) teaches that episcopal consecration constitutes the fullness of the sacrament of Orders, that fullness called the high priesthood (Lumen gentium 21). This theology of the sacramentality of episcopal consecration is reflected in the 1990 Editio Typica Altera of the rite of ordination. The 1990 Pontificate Romanum begins with the rite for the ordination of a bishop and then follows with the rites for presbyters and deacons in a descending order. The implication is that the bishop has the fullness of the sacrament and that the other orders are related to that fullness. What was formerly a prayer of consecration for a bishop is now designated as a prayer of ordination.

Pius XII in Sacramentum Ordinis (Nov. 30, 1947) and Paul VI in Pontificalis Romani recognitio (June 18, 1968) stipulated the matter and form of the sacrament, the imposition of hands and the central portion of the prayer of ordination calling on God to pour out upon the ordinand "that power which is from you, the governing Spirit." In accord with ancient custom, the principal ordaining bishop is joined by two other bishops in celebrating the ordination. All the bishops present join the principal ordaining bishop in laying hands on the bishopelect, thus witnessing to the collegial nature of the Order of the episcopate.

History of the Question Before Vatican II . The status of the episcopacy as an order remained a disputed question in the Western Church. The superiority of bishops to priests had been affirmed in the early 2d century (St. Ignatius, Ad. Phil. 4; Ad Smyrn. 8), but some early writers such as Ambrosiaster, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Jerome emphasized the elements of equality between priests and bishops to counter an attempt by deacons to be accepted as superior to priests (see F. Prat, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 5:2:166163). The Protestant Reformation followed this opinion in the 16th century.

St. Thomas Aquinas denied that episcopal consecration confers a sacramental character since he did not see how a bishop could consecrate the eucharist any more intensively than a priest (IV Sent., D. 24, q. 2, a. 1, sol. 2; Summa contra Gentiles, l. IV. c. 74; Summa Theologiae, Suppl. 40.5). He interpreted episcopal consecration as imparting power over the Mystical Body, and thereby as imparting jurisdiction. He distinguished this from power over the eucharistic body which the sacrament of orders conferred.

The Council of Trent insisted that ecclesiastical hierarchy is of divine institution and that de facto it is composed of bishops, priests, and other ministers without, however, defining the de facto composition of bishops, priests, and other ministers. The Second Vatican Council confirmed that the church is a hierarchically constituted society (LG 20) and described this hierarchy as consisting of bishops, priests, and deacons.

Vatican II describes the effects of ordination as conferring a threefold office of sanctifying, teaching, and ruling. This language of the threefold office tends to replace the categories of sacramental power and jurisdiction that dominated sacramental theology prior to Vatican II. Within the threefold office governance is more than jurisdiction delegated from another authority; it is an office inherent to the sacrament. Thus Lumen gentium speaks of a bishop's authority as "proper, ordinary, and immediate" (LG 27). A bishop's authority is not delegated by the pope, but one he possesses by virtue of his ordination.

Identifying the "Fullness" of Orders. The teaching on the sacramentality of episcopal consecration raises the question of the difference between episcopal ordination and presbyteral ordination. In what does the fullness of the sacramental of Order consist? Since Vatican II did not identify this, various explanations represent theological speculation rather than official church teaching.

One explanation has been that bishops have certain sacramental powers not possessed by presbyters. The Council of Trent asserted that episcopal consecration conveys a power over the sacrament of confirmation and Holy Orders that does not belong in the same way to a priest. The history of sacramental theology has shown that bishops were the original ministers of Baptism, postbaptismal chrismation (Confirmation), the Eucharist, and Reconciliation. They delegated priests as the ministers of these sacraments at various times and in various circumstances. Priests, particularly mitered abbots, have at times been commissioned to confer the priesthood. The one power that has not been delegated to presbyters is the consecration of a bishop. This history makes it difficult to locate the essential difference between bishops and presbyters in the sacramental powers each possesses.

Traditionally, the sacramental effect of ordination was seen as the ordinand's configuration to Christ, which empowered the ordinand to teach, to govern, and to act in Christ's name in the administration of the sacraments. Here both presbyter and bishop signify Christ. The ordained person is vicarious Christi, a vicar of Christ, who acts in persona Christi, in the place of the person of Christ. Vatican II continues this teaching that "through that sacrament priests by the anointing of the Holy Spirit are signed with a special character and so are configured to Christ the priest in such a way that they are able to act in the person of Christ the head" (PO 2). Configuration to Christ so as to act in his name in the sacraments does not explain the difference between a bishop and a presbyter or give a complete account of the sacramentality of ordination, for a bishop does not act any more intensively or represent Christ more fully within the sacraments.

The difference, however, can be essentially located in the ecclesial signification of ordination, specifically in the representative function of the bishop. This is related to configuration to Christ precisely as head of his body, the Church. The sacrament of Orders creates a bond between a bishop and a particular eucharistic community. A bishop is never ordained absolutely, but within a church, even if this church is a historic one, as in the case of titular bishops. He represents the Church in its prayer to the Father, particularly in the Eucharist, and so acts in persona ecclesiae. According to this interpretation of the sacrament, the ordained person is "ordered" to Christ in a recapitulative relationship to the Church. The ordained person represents Christ in a relationship of headship while the baptized are configured to Christ as members of his body. This relationship to Christ is important since it is Christ who acts in the sacraments. The ordained person's relationship to Christ is thus inseparable from his relationship to the Church.

Orders also creates a bond of communion between a bishop and the other bishops, including the bishop of Rome and the college of bishops. A bishop becomes a member of the college of bishops by his sacramental consecration and communion with the other bishops and the bishop of Rome. The sacrament of Orders effects and signifies these relationships which both constitute and manifest the order of the Church as a communion of communions.

The bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular churches. As a college they visibly represent the unity among the particular churches. A particular bishop represents and manifests a particular church. He represents this church within the communion of particular churches. As a college, all the bishops in their relationship to one another signify the relationship among the particular churches, namely, the communion of communions. The college of bishops sacramentalizes the communion of churches insofar as it makes visible these ecclesial interrelationships within the personal communion of the bishops. The "fullness" represented in the episcopacy is none other than this communion within the episcopal college.

A bishop differs essentially from a presbyter in his representative function. A bishop represents his particular church within the communion of churches while a presbyter does not. A presbyter cannot represent a particular church and is not a member of the college of bishops. This representative function is inseparable from governance, but here governance is seen through the lens of sacramentality rather than the lens of jurisdiction. Pastoral leadership, liturgical presidency, and authoritative teachingthe kingly, priestly, and prophetic roles of the bishopare functions of the bishop's ordo in the community. This ecclesial relationship is signified and constituted by the sacrament of ordination. Thus there is both a Christological and an ecclesial referent to the sign of the sacrament of ordination, and the fullness of the sacrament of Orders refers to the bishop's ability to represent a particular church in the communion of particular churches.

Bibliography: e. boularand, "La consécration épiscopale est-elle sacramentelle?" Bulletin de litérature ecclésiastique 54, (no. 1, 1953) 336; e. j. kilmartin, "Apostolic Office: Sacrament of Christ," Theological Studies 36 (1975) 243264; j. lÉcuyer, "Orientations présentes de la théologie de l'épiscopat," in y. congar and b. d. dupuy, eds., L'Episcopat et l'église universelle (Paris 1962) 781811; g. nicolussi, "La sacramentalità dell'episcopato nella 'Lumen gentium,' Cap. III," Ephemerides theologicae Lovanienses 47 (1971) 763; s. k. wood, Sacramental Orders (Collegeville, Minn. 2000).

[s. k. wood]