QUESTION 36: OF THE QUALITIES REQUIRED OF THOSE WHO RECEIVE THIS SACRAMENT
We must next consider the qualities required of those who receive the sacrament of Order. Under this head there are five points of inquiry:
(1) Whether goodness of life is required of those who receive this
(2) Whether the knowledge of the whole of Sacred Writ is required?
(3) Whether the degree of Orders is obtained by mere merit of life?
(4) Whether he who raises the unworthy to Orders sins?
(5) Whether one who is in sin can without committing a sin exercise the
Order he has received?
Article 1: Whether goodness of life is required of those who receive Orders?
Objection 1: It would seem that goodness of life is not required of those who
receive Orders. For by Orders a man is ordained to the dispensation of
the sacraments. But the sacraments can be administered by good and
wicked. Therefore goodness of life is not requisite.
Objection 2: Further, the service of God in the sacraments is no greater than
service offered to Him in the body. Now our Lord did not cast aside the
sinful and notorious woman from rendering Him a bodily service (Lk. 7).
Therefore neither should the like be debarred from His service in the
Objection 3: Further, by every grace a remedy is given against sin. Now those
who are in sin should not be refused a remedy that may avail them. Since
then grace is given in the sacrament of order, it would seem that this
sacrament ought also to be conferred on sinners.
On the contrary, "Whosoever of the seed of Aaron throughout their
families hath a blemish, he shall not offer bread to his God neither
shall he approach to minister to him [*Vulg.: 'Say to Aaron: Whosoever of
thy seed,'etc.]" (Lev. 21:17,18). Now "blemish signifies all kinds of
vice" according to a gloss. Therefore he who is shackled by any vice
should not be admitted to the ministry of Orders.
Further, Jerome commenting on the words of Titus 2:15, "Let no man
despise thee," says that "not only should bishops, priests, and deacons
take very great care to be examples of speech and conduct to those over
whom they are placed, but also the lower grades, and without exception
all who serve the household of God, since it is most disastrous to the
Church if the laity be better than the clergy." Therefore holiness of
life is requisite in all the Orders.
I answer that, As Dionysius says (Eccl. Hier. iii), "even as the more
subtle and clear essences, being filled by the outpouring of the solar
radiance, like the sun enlighten other bodies with their brilliant light,
so in all things pertaining to God a man must not dare to become a leader
of others, unless in all his habits he be most deiform and godlike."
Wherefore, since in every order a man is appointed to lead others in
Divine things, he who being conscious of mortal sin presents himself for
Orders is guilty of presumption and sins mortally. Consequently holiness
of life is requisite for Orders, as a matter of precept, but not as
essential to the sacrament; and if a wicked man be ordained, he receives
the Order none the less, and yet with sin withal.
Reply to Objection 1: Just as the sinner dispenses sacraments validly, so does he
receive validly the sacrament of Orders, and as he dispenses unworthily,
even so he receives unworthily.
Reply to Objection 2: The service in point consisted only in the exercise of
bodily homage, which even sinners can offer lawfully. It is different
with the spiritual service to which the ordained are appointed, because
thereby they are made to stand between God and the people. Wherefore they
should shine with a good conscience before God, and with a good name
Reply to Objection 3: Certain medicines require a robust constitution, else it is
mortally dangerous to take them; others can be given to the weakly. So
too in spiritual things certain sacraments are ordained as remedies for
sin, and the like are to be given to sinners, as Baptism and Penance,
while others, which confer the perfection of grace, require a man made
strong by grace.
Article 2: Whether knowledge of all Holy Writ is required?
Objection 1: It would seem that knowledge of all Holy Writ is required. For
one from whose lips we seek the law, should have knowledge of the law.
Now the laity seek the law at the mouth of the priest (Malachi 2:7).
Therefore he should have knowledge of the whole law.
Objection 2: Further, "being always ready to satisfy everyone that asketh you
a reason of that faith and hope in you [*Vulg.: 'Of that hope which is in
you; St. Thomas apparently took his reading from Bede]." Now to give a
reason for things pertaining to faith and hope belongs to those who have
perfect knowledge of Holy Writ. Therefore the like knowledge should be
possessed by those who are placed in Orders, and to whom the aforesaid
words are addressed.
Objection 3: Further, no one is competent to read what he understands not,
since to read without intelligence is "negligence,"* as Cato declares
(Rudiment.). [*"Legere et non intelligere est negligere." The play on the
words is more evident in Latin.] Now it belongs to the reader (which is
the lower Order) to read the Old Testament, as stated in the text (Sent.
iv, D, 24). Therefore he should understand the whole of the Old
Testament; and much more those in the higher Orders.
On the contrary, Many are raised to the priesthood even who know nothing
at all of these things, even in many religious Orders. Therefore
apparently this knowledge is not required.
Further, we read in the Lives of the Fathers that some who were monks
were raised to the priesthood, being of a most holy life. Therefore the
aforesaid knowledge is not required in those to be ordained.
I answer that, For any human act to be rightly ordered there must needs
be the direction of reason. Wherefore in order that a man exercise the
office of an Order, it is necessary for him to have as much knowledge as
suffices for his direction in the act of that Order. And consequently one
who is to be raised to Orders is required to have that knowledge, and to
be instructed in Sacred Scripture, not the whole, but more or less,
according as his office is of a greater or lesser extent---to wit, that
those who are placed over others, and receive the care of souls, know
things pertaining to the doctrine of faith and morals, and that others
know whatever concerns the exercise of their Order.
Reply to Objection 1: A priest exercises a twofold action: the one, which is
principal, over the true body of Christ; the other, which is secondary,
over the mystical body of Christ. The second act depends on the first,
but not conversely. Wherefore some are raised to the priesthood, to whom
the first act alone is deputed, for instance those religious who are not
empowered with the care of souls. The law is not sought at the mouth of
these, they are required only for the celebration of the sacraments; and
consequently it is enough for them to have such knowledge as enables them
to observe rightly those things that regard the celebration of the
sacrament. Others are raised to exercise the other act which is over the
mystical body of Christ, and it is at the mouth of these that the people
seek the law; wherefore they ought to possess knowledge of the law, not
indeed to know all the difficult points of the law (for in these they
should have recourse to their superiors), but to know what the people
have to believe and fulfill in the law. To the higher priests, namely the
bishops, it belongs to know even those points of the law which may offer
some difficulty, and to know them the more perfectly according as they
are in a higher position.
Reply to Objection 2: The reason that we have to give for our faith and hope does
not denote one that suffices to prove matters of faith and hope, since
they are both of things invisible; it means that we should be able to
give general proofs of the probability of both, and for this there is not
much need of great knowledge.
Reply to Objection 3: The reader has not to explain Holy Writ to the people (for
this belongs to the higher orders), but merely to voice the words.
Therefore he is not required to have so much knowledge as to understand
Holy Writ, but only to know how to pronounce it correctly. And since such
knowledge is obtained easily and from many persons, it may be supposed
with probability that the ordained will acquire that knowledge even if he
have it not already, especially if it appear that he is on the road to
Article 3: Whether a man obtains the degrees of Order by the merit of one's life?
Objection 1: It would seem that a man obtains the degrees of order by the mere
merit of his life. For, according to Chrysostom [*Hom. xliii in the Opus
Imperfectum, wrongly ascribed to St. John Chrysostom], "not every priest
is a saint, but every saint is a priest." Now a man becomes a saint by
the merit of his life. Consequently he thereby also becomes a priest, and
"a fortiori" has he the other Orders.
Objection 2: Further, in natural things, men obtain a higher degree from the
very fact that they are near God, and have a greater share of His favors,
as Dionysius says (Eccl. Hier. iv). Now it is by merit of holiness and
knowledge that a man approaches nearer to God and receives more of His
favors. Therefore by this alone he is raised to the degree of Orders.
On the contrary, Holiness once possessed can be lost. But when once a
man is ordained he never loses his order. Therefore order does not
consist in the mere merit of holiness.
I answer that, A cause should be proportionate to its effect. And
consequently as in Christ, from Whom grace comes down on all men, there
must needs be fulness of grace; so in the ministers of the Church, to
whom it belongs, not to give grace, but to give the sacraments of grace,
the degree of order does not result from their having grace, but from
their participating in a sacrament of grace.
Reply to Objection 1: Chrysostom is speaking of the priest in reference to the
reason for which he is so called, the word "sacerdos" signifying
dispenser of holy things [sacra dans]: for in this sense every righteous
man, in so far as he assists others by the sacraments, may be called a
priest. But he is not speaking according to the actual meaning of the
words; for this word "sacerdos" [priest] is employed to signify one who
gives sacred things by dispensing the sacraments.
Reply to Objection 2: Natural things acquire a degree of superiority over others,
from the fact that they are able to act on them by virtue of their form;
wherefore from the very fact that they have a higher form, they obtain a
higher degree. But the ministers of the Church are placed over others,
not to confer anything on them by virtue of their own holiness (for this
belongs to God alone), but as ministers, and as instruments, so to say,
of the outpouring from the Head to the members. Hence the comparison
fails as regards the dignity of Order, although it applies as to
Article 4: Whether he who raises the unworthy to Orders commits a sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that he who raises the unworthy to orders commits
no sin. For a bishop needs assistants appointed to the lesser offices.
But he would be unable to find them in sufficient number, if he were to
require of them such qualifications as the saints enumerate. Therefore if
he raise some who are not qualified, he would seem to be excusable.
Objection 2: Further, the Church needs not only ministers for the dispensation
of things spiritual, but also for the supervision of temporalities. But
sometimes men without knowledge or holiness of life may be useful for the
conduct of temporal affairs, either because of their worldly power, or on
account of their natural industry. Therefore seemingly the like can be
promoted without sin.
Objection 3: Further, everyone is bound to avoid sin, as far as he can. If
therefore a bishop sins in promoting the unworthy, he is bound to take
the utmost pains to know whether those who present themselves for Orders
be worthy, by making a careful inquiry about their morals and knowledge,
and yet seemingly this is not done anywhere.
On the contrary, It is worse to raise the wicked to the sacred ministry,
than not to correct those who are raised already. But Heli sinned
mortally by not correcting his sons for their wickedness; wherefore "he
fell backwards . . . and died" (1 Kgs. 4:18). Therefore he who promotes
the unworthy does not escape sin.
Further, spiritual things must be set before temporal things in the
Church. Now a man would commit a mortal sin were he knowingly to endanger
the temporalities of the Church. Much more therefore is it a mortal sin
to endanger spiritual things. But whoever promotes the unworthy endangers
spiritual things, since according to Gregory (Hom. xii in Evang.) "if a
man's life is contemptible, his preaching is liable to be despised"; and
for the same reason all the spiritual things that he dispenses. Therefore
he who promotes the unworthy sins mortally.
I answer that, Our Lord describes the faithful servant whom He has set
"over His household to give them their measure of wheat." Hence he is
guilty of unfaithfulness who gives any man Divine things above his
measure: and whoso promotes the unworthy does this. Wherefore he commits
a mortal crime, as being unfaithful to his sovereign Lord, especially
since this is detrimental to the Church and to the Divine honor which is
promoted by good ministers. For a man would be unfaithful to his earthly
lord were he to place unworthy subjects in his offices.
Reply to Objection 1: God never so abandons His Church that apt ministers are not
to be found sufficient for the needs of the people, if the worthy be
promoted and the unworthy set aside. And though it were impossible to
find as many ministers as there are now, it were better to have few good
ministers than many bad ones, as the blessed Clement declares in his
second epistle to James the brother of the Lord.
Reply to Objection 2: Temporal things are not to be sought but for the sake of
spiritual things. Wherefore all temporal advantage should count for
nothing, and all gain be despised for the advancement of spiritual good.
Reply to Objection 3: It is at least required that the ordainer know that nothing
contrary to holiness is in the candidate for ordination. But besides this
he is required to take the greatest care, in proportion to the Order or
office to be enjoined, so as to be certain of the qualifications of those
to be promoted, at least from the testification of others. This is the
meaning of the Apostle when he says (1 Tim. 5:22): "Impose not hands
lightly on any man."
Article 5: Whether a man who is in sin can without sin exercise the Order he has received? [*Cf. TP, Question , Article ]
Objection 1: It would seem that one who is in sin can without sin exercise the
order he has received. For since, by virtue of his office, he is bound to
exercise his order, he sins if he fails to do so. If therefore he sins by
exercising it, he cannot avoid sin: which is inadmissible.
Objection 2: Further, a dispensation is a relaxation of the law. Therefore
although by rights it would be unlawful for him to exercise the order he
has received, it would be lawful for him to do so by dispensation.
Objection 3: Further, whoever co-operates with another in a mortal sin, sins
mortally. If therefore a sinner sins mortally by exercising his order, he
who receives or demands any Divine thing from him also sins mortally: and
this seems absurd.
Objection 4: Further, if he sins by exercising his order, it follows that
every act of his order that he performs is a mortal sin; and consequently
since many acts concur in the one exercise of his order, it would seem
that he commits many mortal sins: which seems very hard.
On the contrary, Dionysius says (Ep. ad Demophil.): "It seems
presumptuous for such a man, one to wit who is not enlightened, to lay
hands on priestly things; he is not afraid nor ashamed, all unworthy that
he is to take part in Divine things, with the thought that God does not
see what he sees in himself; he thinks, by false pretense, to cheat Him
Whom he falsely calls his Father; he dares to utter in the person of
Christ, words polluted by his infamy, I will not call them prayers, over
the Divine symbols." Therefore a priest is a blasphemer and a cheat if he
exercises his order unworthily, and thus he sins mortally: and in like
manner any other person in orders.
Further, holiness of life is required in one who receives an order, that he may be qualified to exercise it. Now a man sins mortally if he present himself for orders in mortal sin. Much more therefore does he sin mortally whenever he exercises his order.
I answer that, The law prescribes (Dt. 16:20) that "man should follow
justly after that which is just." Wherefore whoever fulfills unworthily
the duties of his order follows unjustly after that which is just, and
acts contrary to a precept of the law, and thereby sins mortally. Now
anyone who exercises a sacred office in mortal sin, without doubt does so
unworthily. Hence it is clear that he sins mortally.
Reply to Objection 1: He is not perplexed as though he were in the necessity of
sinning; for he can renounce his sin, or resign his office whereby he was
bound to the exercise of his order.
Reply to Objection 2: The natural law allows of no dispensation; and it is of
natural law that man handle holy things holily. Therefore no one can
dispense from this.
Reply to Objection 3: So long as a minister of the Church who is in mortal sin is
recognized by the Church, his subject must receive the sacraments from
him, since this is the purpose for which he is bound to him.
Nevertheless, outside the case of necessity, it would not be safe to
induce him to an execution of his Order, as long as he is conscious of
being in mortal sin, which conscience, however, he can lay aside since a
man is repaired in an instant by Divine grace.
Reply to Objection 4: When any man performs an action as a minister of the Church
while in a state of mortal sin, he sins mortally, and as often as he
performs that action, since, as Dionysius says (Eccl. Hier. i), "it is
wrong for the unclean even to touch the symbols," i.e. the sacramental
signs. Hence when they touch sacred things in the exercise of their
office they sin mortally. It would be otherwise if they were to touch
some sacred thing or perform some sacred duty in a case of necessity,
when it would be allowable even to a layman, for instance if they were to
baptize in a case of urgency, or gather up the Lord's body should it be
cast to the ground.