8. Official Duties of Presbyters
Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER III. Of the Ministers of the Church
8. Official Duties of Presbyters
These duties are comprised under the following heads.
- Before any formal distinction was known between bishops and presbyters the latter, especially those who were styled*, performed the duties of the former. Subsequent to the specific division of church officers, [after the establishment of the ecclesiastical hierarchy,] they performed a vicarious service in the place of the bishops; but there are occasional instances still later when they, in special cases, or by virtue of their office, performed duties which, according to canonical rules, belonged exclusively to the bishops.
- According to the views of the bishop's office which represent him as controlling all that relates to religious worship, and the administration of the ordinances, (see above, 4,) the presbyters performed the common religious services as his representatives, or assistants. As such, from the beginning, they discharged the offices o[ teacher and preacher, which appropriately belonged to the bishop. Even the deacons were frequently authorized to preach. Hence it appears that both presbyters and deacons acted in this capacity by authority delegated by the bishop. This state of things must however be understood to have prevailed only in communities where there were both bishops and presbyters, and while the bishops were still able and disposed themselves to perform the duties of the ministry. Jerome expresses his dissatisfaction that presbyters were not fully invested with the office of the ministry. Passages of much the same import occur in the writings of Socrates, Sozomen, and Ambrose. The example of Leo, and Gregory the Great, together with the fact that there are still extant sermons from bishops, such as Origen and others, is sufficient to show that they continued to discharge the. duties of public preachers through the first seven centuries of the christian era. From that period these duties devolved entirely upon the presbyters.
- The presbyters assisted in the administration of the sacraments. They are styled the comministri, conscerdotales,* of the bishop who, according to the explicit rules of the church, had the control of this service. That the presbyters acted as the representatives and assistants of the bishops in this ordinance, may be inferred from the circumstance that in the rites of ordination, which belonged exclusively to the bishop, they also assisted in the imposition of hands. Subsequently they regularly administered the ordinances, and other sacred rites, such as the following.
- They administered baptisms, particularly after the introduction of infant baptism. The act of confirmation belonged to the bishop, though there are exceptions to this rule.
- They administered the sacrament of the Lord's supper. The solemnizing act in this ordinance is the consecration of the elements, which was performed by the presbyters except when the bishop was present, or was in missa pontificalibus, as the phraseology was. It was theirs also, by an ancient rule, to impart the consecrated bread – the host, and to pronounce the benediction.
The administration of this ordinance was the highest official act of the priesthood. With reference to this part of his office, the presbyter was styled mediator*, medius. A phraseology deservedly censured by Augustine as seeming to relate to the office of the Mediator of the christian covenant; but it was probably designed to denote the intermediate grade of the presbyter, between the subordinate officers of the priesthood, and the bishop.
- The presbyters also took part in acts of public penance while that system prevailed, though this was the peculiar prerogative of the bishop. All that related to the regulation of penance was, with certain reservations, under their immediate oversight They were the appropriate penitentiary priests, penitentiarii and confessarii.
- It belonged to them appropriately, to solemnize marriages, and to perform all the nuptial ceremonies,
- They administered extreme unction, and performed all religious funeral services.
- All the forms of benediction and consecration, such as that of the chrism, or anointing oil, etc. pertained to their office, with the exception of those which, from the beginning, were exclusively prescribed to the bishops.
- The stated public prayers*, occasional prayers, were offered by bishops and presbyters indiscriminately, and both had a general superintendence of all their ceremonies of religious worship, together with the oversight of the deacons and lower officers of the priesthood.
- In common with the bishops, presbyters indisputably had a part in the discipline of the church, both as it related to the clergy and the laity . This point has been the subject of much uncertainty and controversy, but it was never denied that the right of concurrence belonged to the presbytery collectively, if not to individual members of it. Subsequently, it became the right of the chapters of the cathedral churches. Indeed, both the doings of the church, and of the synod were under the controlling influence of presbyters' The references subjoined are sufficient to show, that they had both a seat and a voice in the assembly of the synod.
- The most important office of the presbyters remains to be mentioned, and that is, the "cure of souls," specific and general, cura animarum, et generalise et spedalis. This has ever been their chief employment as pastors, vicars, and parish ministers. This point cannot in this place be discussed at length; suffice it to say that, in the discharge of their duties, they had occasion to combat with the greatest difficulties. At one time, through the arrogance and tyrannical power of the bishops, at another, through the contempt of the monks, they became martyrs to their high and holy calling.
Ep. II. ad Nep. Vgl. Dial. c. Lucif.
Concil. Carthag. 4. c. 3, 4: Consiit. eccl. Alex. c. 8. Decrei. Gratiani dist. 23. c. 8.
Chrysost. de sacerd. lib. iii. c. 1–6. c. 4: Homil. 4. in Jes. Hom. 15. in 2 Cor.
Constitnt. Ap. 8. c. 9, 10, 11: ChrysosL tom. ii. p. 57: Concil. Milevir. c. 12.
Cyprian Ep. 33. (al 38.) 6, (al. 14.) 46, (al 49.) 24, (al 29.) 55, (al 59.): Basil. M.ep. 319: Epiphan. haer. 57. c. 1. 69. c. 3: Chrysost. de sacerd. lib. iii. c. 15.
Eiiseb. e. h. lib. vi. c. 43–7. c. 28, 30: Concil. Illiber. c. 36:Concil. Arlet. I: Concil. Tolet. I: Concil. Bracar II: ConciL Nic. c. II.
(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)