Ecumenical XIX (Contra Novatores 16 cent.)

SESSION XXIII (July 15, 1563)

The Doctrine on the Sacrament of Orders


Chap. 1. The Institution of the Priesthood of the New Law

957 Sacrifice and priesthood are so united by the ordinance of God that both have existed in every law. Since, therefore, in the New Testament the Catholic Church has received from the institution of the Lord the holy, visible sacrifice of the Eucharist, it must also be confessed that there is in this Church a new visible and external priesthood [can. 1], into which the old has been translated [Heb. 7:12]. Moreover, that this was instituted by that same Lord our Savior [can. 3], and that to the apostles and their successors in the priesthood was handed down the power of consecrating, of offering and administering His body and blood, and also of forgiving and retaining sins, the Sacred Scriptures show and the tradition of the Catholic Church has always taught [can. 1].


Chap.2. The Seven Orders

958 Moreover, since the ministry of this holy priesthood is a divine thing, it was proper that it should be exercised more worthily and with deeper veneration, that in the most well ordered arrangement of the Church, there should be different orders of ministers [ Matt. 16:19; Luke 22:19;John 20:22 f.], who by virtue of their office should administer to the priesthood, so distributed that those who already had the clerical tonsure should ascend through the minor to the major orders [can. 2]. For the Sacred Scriptures make distinct mention not only of the priests, but also of the deacons [Acts 6:5 ; 1 Tim. 3:8 f.; Phil. 1:1], and teach in the most impressive words what is especially to be observed in their ordination; and from the very beginning of the Church the names of the following orders and the duties proper to each one are known to have been in use, namely those of the subdeacon, acolyte, exorcist, rector, and porter, though not of equal rank; for the subdiaconate is classed among the major orders by the Fathers and the sacred Councils, in which we also read very frequently of other inferior orders.


Chap. 3. The Order of the Priesthood is Truly a Sacrament

959 Since from the testimony of Scripture, apostolic tradition, and the unanimous consensus of opinion of the Fathers it is evident that by sacred ordination, which is performed by words and outward signs, grace is conferred, no one can doubt that order is truly and properly one of the seven sacraments of the Church [can. 3 ]. For the Apostle says: “I admonish thee that thou stir up the grace of God which is in thee by the imposition of my hands. For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sobriety” [2 Tim. 1:6, 7 ; cf. 1 Tim. 4: 14].


Chap. 4. The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy and Ordination

960 But since in the sacrament of orders, as also in baptism and in confirmation, a sign is imprinted [can. 4], which can neither be effaced nor taken away, justly does the holy Synod condemn the opinion of those who assert that the priests of the New Testament have only a temporary power, and that those at one time rightly ordained can again become laymen, if they do not exercise the ministry of the word of God [can. 1 ]. But if anyone should affirm that all Christians without distinction are priests of the New Testament, or that they are all endowed among themselves with an equal spiritual power, he seems to do nothing else than disarrange [can. 6] the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which is “as an army set in array” [cf. Song. 6:3], just as if, contrary to the teaching of blessed Paul, all were apostles, all prophets, all evangelists, all pastors, all doctors [cf. 1 Cor. 12:29; Eph. 4:11]. Accordingly, the holy Synod declares that besides the other ecclesiastical grades, the bishops who have succeeded the Apostles, belong in a special way to this hierarchial order, and have been “placed (as the same Apostle says) by the Holy Spirit to rule the Church of God” [Acts 20:29], and that they are superior to priests, and administer the sacrament of confirmation, ordain ministers of the Church, and can perform many other offices over which those of an inferior order have no power [can. 7]. The holy Synod teaches, furthermore, that in the ordination of bishops, priests, and of other orders, the consent, or call, or authority of the people, or of any secular power or magistrate is not so required for the validity of the ordination; but rather it decrees that those who are called and instituted only by the people, or by the civil power or magistrate and proceed to exercise these offices, and that those who by their own temerity take these offices upon themselves, are not ministers of the Church, but are to be regarded as “thieves and robbers, who have not entered by the door” [cf. John 10:1; can. 8]. These are the matters which in general it seemed well to the sacred Council to teach to the faithful of Christ regarding the sacrament of order. It has, however, resolved to condemn the contrary in definite and appropriate canons in the following manner, so that all, making use of the rule of faith, with the assistance of Christ, may be able to recognize more easily the Catholic truth in the midst of the darkness of so many errors, and may adhere to it.