I HOPE the following provides some clarification to J.K. Creevey’s (CL 14/5/00) difficulty in understanding my intended meaning in response to “equating the laying on of hands with ordination and hence seeing the latter as evident in the action accounted for in the Acts of the Apostles (6:1-8)”.
After providing a reflection on one possible way that the ministry of the “chosen seven” of Acts might have emerged Creevey makes the following statement. “We must view this (laying on of hands) as constituting what has since become to be termed ordination.” This statement, like the one above, is difficult to affirm given the evidence of the New Testament and the later development of ordination in the Church’s tradition.
First, the New Testament mentions the laying on of hands on four main occasions that could be important for our consideration for the sacrament of orders (Act 6:6; 13:3; 1Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6 and cf 1 Tim 5:22). But these occasions represent different situations of time and place.
They may not simply be used singularly or be brought together “as one” in the expectation that gathering them together provides the constitutive element of diaconal ordination as it is known in the Church today.
Scholarship on this issue maintains that it is not evident that the laying on of hands always and everywhere had the same meaning during the New Testament period or indeed for some time after it for the same purpose. A general agreement among scholars is that leaders in the Church emerged or were appointed in different ways in different communities with different Church orders.
Second, it is important to realise that neither the words ordain nor ordination is found in the New Testament. Further, it is only with caution that the meaning of these later terms used by the Church in fact coincide with the varied patterns of understanding and practice of ministry as they emerged in the Churches of the New Testament.
Third, given the above, it is important to note that the ministries of bishop, priest and deacon do eventually emerge as the dominant forms of leadership within the tradition of Western Church. But even given this emergence it is equally important to realise that each of these ministries changed in their relation to one another and other forms of ministry in the Church.
Finally, I agree with Creevey as to the primary purpose of all ministries in the Church. They are at the service of the Gospel for the building up of the Church.
FR DAVID PASCOE Academic dean Pius XII Seminary, Banyo, Qld