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CHAPTER LXXVIOf the Episcopal Dignity, and that therein one Bishop is Supreme

THERE must be some power of higher ministry in the Church to administer the Sacrament of Order; and this is the episcopal power,10161016The episcopate is established by positive indefeasible institution; and there are reasons why it should be: yet who shall pretend that presbyterian government, and ordination by an assembly of presbyters, is, absolutely speaking, an intrinsic absurdity? Or that it could not have been instituted by Christ, had He so willed? Here, as repeatedly in this work, St Thomas’s necesse est is no argument of antecedent necessity, but of mere congruentia post factum. which, though not exceeding the power of the simple priest in the consecration of the Body of Christ, exceeds it in its dealings with the faithful. The presbyter’s power is derived from the episcopal; and whenever any action, rising above what is common and usual, has to be done upon the 400faithful people, that is reserved to bishops; and it is by episcopal authority that presbyters do what is committed to them; and in their ministry they make use of things consecrated by bishops, as in the Eucharist the chalice, altar-stone and palls.10171017Pallis. The palla now is a small square of linen used to cover the chalice. But in St Thomas’s time the palla was what is now called corporale, the linen cloth on which the consecrated elements are laid. The ends of it used to be turned up so as to cover the chalice. Both corporale and palla are now blessed by a simple priest with the bishop’s leave.

1. Though populations are different in different dioceses and cities, still, as there is one Church, there must be one Christian people. As then in the spiritual people of one Church there is required one Bishop, who is Head of all that people; so in the whole Christian people it is requisite that there be one Head of the whole Church.10181018The argument is this. — The Church is one society, as it is one Church, cf. Ephesians iv, 4-6: v, 23-31: John x, 16). But there is one society only where there is one government; and one government means one sovereign authority (this is an axiom of political science). Is that authority vested in many persons collectively or in one person? We may suppose that the government of the whole Church is analogous to the government of those local Churches, which are called dioceses. But a diocese is governed by one person, the Bishop: therefore the whole Church by one Bishop, supreme over other Bishops. For the value of the argument, cf. note, p. 399. The conclusion is finally evinced a posteriori by documents and facts of history.

2. One requisite of the unity of the Church is the agreement of all the faithful in faith. When questions of faith arise, the Church would be rent by diversity of judgements, were it not preserved in unity by the judgement of one. But in things necessary Christ is not wanting to His Church, which He has loved, and has shed His blood for it: since even of the Synagogue the Lord says: What is there that I ought further to have done for my vineyard and have not done it.? (Isai. v, 4.) We cannot doubt then that by the ordinance of Christ one man presides over the whole Church.

3. None can doubt that the government of the Church is excellently well arranged, arranged as it is by Him through whom kings reign and lawgivers enact just things (Prov. viii, 15). But the best form of government for a multitude is to be governed by one: for the end of government is the peace and unity of its subjects: and one man is a more apt source of unity than many together.10191019The arguments for monarchy are stronger in a State that is organised for war. A board of generals is never a success: an army in the field requires a perpetual dictatorship. Now the Church on earth, as mentioned in the next argument, is the Church Militant, ever at war, and therefore needing the strictest unity in its own organisation.

But if any will have it that the one Head and one Shepherd is Christ, as being the one Spouse of the one Church, his view is inadequate to the facts. For though clearly Christ Himself gives effect to the Sacraments of the Church, — He it is who baptises, He forgives sins, He is the true Priest who has offered Himself on the altar of the cross, and by His power His Body is daily consecrated at our altars, — nevertheless, because He was not to be present in bodily shape with all His faithful, He chose ministers and would dispense His gifts to His faithful people through their hands. And by reason of the same future absence it was needful for Him to issue His commission to some one to take care of this universal Church in His stead.10201020In the little society of Christ and His disciples everything centred in the person of the Master. The smiting of the shepherd was the scattering of the flock (Matt. xxvi, 31). It remained, one fold, or one flock, so long as it had in Him one Shepherd (John x, 16). Then we ask whether so essential a feature of the infant Church ought not somehow to reappear and be conspicuous in the Church grown great and filling the world. Hence He said to Peter before His Ascension, Feed my sheep (John xxi, 1) and before His Passion, Thou in thy turn confirm thy brethren (Luke xxii, 32); and to him alone He made the promise, To thee I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. xvi, 19). Nor can it be said that although He gave 401this dignity to Peter, it does not pass from Peter to others. For Christ instituted His Church to last to the end of the world, according to the text: He shall sit upon the throne of David and in his kingdom, to confirm and strengthen it in justice and judgement from henceforth, now, and for ever (Isai. ix, 7). Therefore, in constituting His ministers for the time, He intended their power to pass to posterity for the benefit of His Church to the end of the world, as He Himself says: Lo, I am with you to the end of the world (Matt. xxviii, 20).

Hereby is cast out the presumptuous error of some, who endeavour to withdraw themselves from obedience and subjection to Peter, not recognising his successor, the Roman Pontiff, for the pastor of the Universal Church.


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