Andrew G. Traver

title.none: Gibaut, The Cursus Honorum (Traver)

identifier.other: baj9928.0107.005 01.07.05

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Andrew G. Traver, Southeastern Louisiana University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Gibaut, John St. H. The Cursus Honorum: A Study of Origins and Evolution of Sequencial Ordination. Patristic Studies, Vol. 3. Bern: Peter Lang, 2000. Pp. iv, 358. $67.95. ISBN: 0-820-44592-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.07.05

Gibaut, John St. H. The Cursus Honorum: A Study of Origins and Evolution of Sequencial Ordination. Patristic Studies, Vol. 3. Bern: Peter Lang, 2000. Pp. iv, 358. $67.95. ISBN: 0-820-44592-4.

Reviewed by:

Andrew G. Traver
Southeastern Louisiana University

In The Cursus Honorum: A Study of the Origins and Evolution of Sequential Ordination, John St. H. Gibaut examines the development of the sequential ordination through the grades of the Church's ministry. Although the cursus honorum has long been an assumed part of the ordination process, Gibaut demonstrates that it had a varied and complex history. The minor orders did not become standardized until the tenth century and the cursus did not become definitively set until a century later. Even after the eleventh century, the cursus remained extremely flexible with respect to the age of the cleric and to the length of time between promotion from one grade to the next.

The geographical focus of this work is the Latin West; its historical focus is almost entirely late Roman and medieval. Chapter one explores sequential ordination in the pre-Nicene period; chapter two covers the "Golden Age" of the Fathers; chapter three, the eighth to tenth centuries; and chapter four, the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The conclusion offers an analysis of the cursus honorum by the sixteenth-century Reformers and discusses the role of the cursus honorum in the contemporary Anglican and Catholic traditions, especially with respect to the diaconate.

What Gibaut offers in this work is an extremely well researched and scholarly book that traces the evolution of sequential ordination through recourse to a myriad of different types of primary sources. Gibaut employs conciliar legislation, papal letters and decretals, ordination liturgies, canonistic collections, theological collections, and biographical material to reconstruct the development of the cursus. As Gibaut notes, no evidence exists in the New Testament of movement from one ministry to another; furthermore, the second-century sources (e.g., Didache, the First Epistle to Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr) do not reveal any promotion from one ministry to another. However, Gibaut shows that a variety of patterns between the ministries of the episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate had developed by the second century.

The first real indication of sequential ordination comes from the third century, in the letters of Cyprian. His Epistle 38 indicates a deliberate usage of one ministry (gradus) as preparatory to another. Moreover, his Epistle 55 shows that Cornelius, bishop of Rome, was promoted through all of the ecclesiastical offices. Through his examination of the pre- Nicene literature, Gibaut reveals the practices of both sequential and direct ordination. Although he can detect an "emerging hierarchical and ranked conception of holy orders" (56) as early as the third century, he can also identify a complicated series of direct ordinations including members of the laity becoming bishops, members of the laity becoming presbyters, priests becoming bishops, and deacons becoming bishops; in the pre-Nicene period, he has discovered very little evidence for sequential ordination from the diaconate to the presbyterate. Gibaut concludes that in the pre-Nicene churches, the orders of bishop, presbyter, and deacon tended to be life-long vocations to which people were ordained directly. And while deacons and presbyters could become bishops, sequential ordination was neither prescriptive nor normative.

The first canonical requirement for sequential ordination comes from canon XIII of the Council of Sardica (343) which prescribed that bishops could not be ordained until they have served sequentially as lectors, deacons, and presbyters. Subsequently, bishops and councils called for specific periods of time (interstices) between ordination to one office and promotion to another. As the fourth century witnessed a period of rapid growth and expansion for the Church, Gibaut asserts that sequential ordination became an effective means by which the Church could test and train its leaders. The cursus honorum thus evolved and became the preferred means by which the Church could best select, prepare, prove, and promote candidates to higher office. The cursus honorum was therefore both a practical and a pastoral solution to avoid appointing those incapable or unworthy to higher office.

Although it was preferred, Gibaut argues that the cursus honorum was not completely standardized in the immediate post-Nicene period and that bishops continued to be selected from variety of states of life including neophytes, the laity, minor orders, and the diaconate. Many of the bishops of Rome continued to be drawn from the diaconate, and in two famous examples, Ambrose was ordained directly to the episcopate as a neophyte, and Augustine was ordained directly to the presbyterate as a lay person. Although the cursus honorum served a pastoral role to ensure that candidates for ecclesiastical grades were properly trained, per saltum (omission of lower orders) ordinations to the episcopate nevertheless continued, and although the promoted candidate might be seen as unsuited or ill prepared for the position, he was still regarded as bishop and there was no question about the sacramental validity of the ordination.

One surprising feature of the late Patristic/early medieval period was the decline of the interstice. At first this interval between offices was abbreviated and eventually disregarded altogether. Although continually demanded by popes, councils, and canonists, the interstice lost its primary role as a probationary period. Once the interstice became disassociated from the cursus honorum, Gibaut sees what he calls "the advent of an implicit sacramental understanding of sequential ordination". (311)

In the eighth and ninth centuries, there were a variety of sequences of minor orders associated with the different western liturgical traditions (Frankish, Hispanic-Irish, and Roman). By the tenth century, these minor orders were harmonized by the dissemination of the Pontificale romano-germanicum that became the first universal pontifical of the Western Church. Nevertheless, certain flexibility in the cursus continued to exist. In Rome, bishops were still elected from the diaconate; while this process continued in the Frankish territories, the deacon in question was first ordained a presbyter before promotion to the episcopate. Gibaut finds in this period both a common abuse of sequential ordination and a strong conciliar reaction against abusing it. As an example, the antipope Constantine was rushed through the minor orders to the diaconate, ordained bishop of Rome in 767 and was censured by the Council of Rome in that same year. Popes Nicholas and Hadrian protested the election of a layman Photius to the see of Constantinople in 858; although both popes were motivated by background factors such as papal primacy, the filioque clause, conflicts over the conversion of the Bulgarians, and territorial disputes over Illyricum and southern Italy, this election placed the cursus honorum high on the agenda and set the stage for the Fourth Council of Constantinople (869-70). Canon V of this Council stated that candidates for the episcopate must first have been clerics or monks, and tested through the grades of lector, subdeacon, deacon, and priest with a ten-year interstice between the reception of the lectorate and episcopal ordination. This canon presumed a system of regularity that did not yet exist in the West. In the following century, the chief notary of Rome and a lay person, Leo, was elected pope following the deposition of the former pope, John XII, by the Emperor Otto I. Leo was rapidly ordained to all the lower orders and consecrated bishop as Leo VIII on the next day. The Council of Rome (964) deposed him on the grounds that he was a layman and a neophyte of the imperial court.

Constantine, Photius, and Leo were all declared to have been invalidly ordained because they were elected from the laity not the clergy. The series of ordinations they received were held to be invalid because the interstices had not been observed. Yet Gibaut shows that at the same time when medieval bishops violated the canons of the cursus honorum, it was precisely the interstices rather than the sequence of grades which were abandoned. And as Gibaut states "once the language around sequential ordination had shifted from legality to validity, the discussion had shifted from canon law to sacramental theology". (314)

The dissemination of the Pontificale romano-germanicum settled the hierarchical sequence of the minor orders in the western Church. However, Gibaut shows that the exact sequence of the major orders was not established until the eleventh century with the universal insistence on sequential ordination from the presbyterate to the episcopate. Gibaut sees the presbyteral ordination of the deacon Hildebrand in 1073 prior to his episcopal coronation as Pope Gregory VII as the decisive indication that what had been the Frankish sequence had become universal practice in the Western church. Thus in the eleventh century, both the major and the minor orders became 'fixed' although much flexibility remained for the interstices and for the ages of clerics.

In his conclusion, Gibaut briefly examines the role of sequential ordinations in the sixteenth century. He notes that most of the Lutheran, Zwinglian, Calvinist, and Anabaptist traditions dropped the practice of sequential ordination and discontinued, to varying degrees, the major and minor orders associated with it. The Anglican Church preserved sequential ordination for the higher orders, and Gibaut discusses some of the contemporary Anglican calls for a distinctive diaconate which is not simply a preparatory stage for the priesthood. The Council of Trent affirmed sequential ordination and codified Catholic practice until the publication of Pope Paul VI's Ministeria quaedam of 1972. In this letter, Pope Paul VI discontinued the subdiaconate and the minor orders, and replaced them with the ministries of reader and acolyte, now open to lay people. And Gibaut notes that while the Catholic rites of ordinations for deacons and presbyters contain no references to sequential ordination, canon law unequivocally prescribes it.

As previously mentioned, Gibaut's work is very scholarly and contains many extracts of relevant Latin passages under consideration in toto. This work is a very useful and important study to anyone interested in the topic of sequential ordination.