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THE Sacrament of Orders, or of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, is that by which the ecclesiastical or spiritual office or power, distinguished into its several grades, is conferred on certain individuals, whose ministry God uses for the purpose of dispensing the grace of His Sacraments, and of instructing, ruling, and retaining others in the unity of the faith and the obedience of charity, superadding thereto a certain power of jurisdiction, which is comprehended chiefly in the use of the keys. To the Hierarchy of Pastors of the Church, belong, not only Priesthood and its preparatory grades, but also Episcopacy, and even the Primacy of the Sovereign Pontiff, all of which we must believe to be of divine right. As Priests are ordained by a Bishop, the Bishop, and especially that Bishop to whom the care of the entire Church is committed, has power to moderate and limit the office of the Priest, so that in certain cases he is restrained from exercising the power of the keys, not

only lawfully, but even validly. Moreover, the Bishop, and especially the Bishop who is called Ecumenical, and who represents the entire Church, has the power of excommunicating and depriving of the grace of the Sacraments, of binding and retaining sins, of loosing and restoring again. For it is not merely that voluntary jurisdiction which belongs to the Priest in the confessional, that is contained under the power of the keys; but the Church, moreover, has power to proceed against the unwilling; and he "who does not hear the Church," and does not, so far as is consistent with the salvation of his soul, keep her commandments, "should be held as the heathen and the publican"; and as the sentence on earth is regularly confirmed by that of heaven, such a man draws on himself, at the peril of his own soul, the weight of ecclesiastical authority, to which God himself lends that which is last and highest in all jurisdiction-execution.

In order, however, that the power of the Hierarchy may be better understood, we must recollect that every state and commonwealth, and therefore the commonwealth of the Church, should be considered as a civil body, or one moral person. For there is this difference between an assembly of many and one body: that an assembly, of itself,


does not form a single person out of many individuals; whereas a body constitutes a person, to which person may belong various properties and rights, distinct from the rights of the individuals whence it is that the right of a body, or college, is vested in one individual, while that of an assembly is necessarily in the hands of many. Now it is of the nature of a person, whether natural or moral, to have a will, in order that its wishes may be known. Hence, if the form of government is a monarchy, the will of the monarch is the will of the state; but if it be a polycracy, we regard as the will of the state the will of some College or Council, whether this consists of a certain number of the citizens, or of them all, ascertained either by the number of votes, or by certain other conditions.

Since, therefore, our merciful and sovereign God has established His Church on earth, as a sacred "city placed upon a mountain," His immaculate spouse, and the interpreter of His will,--and has so earnestly commended the universal maintenance of her unity in the bonds of love, and has commanded that she should be heard by all who would not be esteemed "as the heathen and the publican"; it follows that He must have appointed some mode by which the will of the Church, the interpreter of the Divine will, could be known.

What this mode is, was pointed out by the Apostles, who, in the beginning, represented the body of the Church. For at the council which was held in Jerusalem, in explaining their opinion, they use the words, "It hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us." Nor did this privilege of the assistance of the Holy Ghost cease in the Church with the death of the Apostles; it is to endure "to the consummation of the world," and has been propagated throughout the whole body of the Church by the Bishops, as successors of the Apostles. Now as, from the impossibility of the Bishops frequently leaving the people over whom they are placed, it is not possible to hold a council continually, or even frequently, while at the same time the person of the Church must always live and subsist, in order that its will may be ascertained, it was a necessary consequence, by the Divine law itself, insinuated in Christ's most memorable words to Peter (when He committed to him specially the keys of the kingdom of heaven), as well as when He thrice emphatically commanded him to "feed His sheep," and uniformly believed in the Church, that one among the Apostles, and the successor of this one among the Bishops, was invested with pre-eminent power; in order that by him, as the visible centre of unity, the body of the

Church might be bound together; the common necessities be provided for; a council, if necessary, be convoked, and when convoked, directed; and that, in the interval between councils, provision might be made lest the commonwealth of the faithful sustain any injury. And as the ancients unanimously attest that the Apostle Peter governed the Church, suffered martyrdom, and appointed his successor, in the city of Rome, the capital of the world; and as no other Bishop has ever been recognized under this relation, we justly acknowledge the Bishop of Rome to be the chief of all the rest. This, at least, therefore, must be held as certain, that in all things which do not admit the delay necessary for the convocation of a general council, the power of the chief of the Bishops, or Sovereign Pontiff, is, during the interval, the same as that of the whole Church. We are to obey the Sovereign Pontiff as the only Vicar of God on earth.

Systema Theologicum.


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