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Direct ordination or not?

Priesthood is normally understood as church-facing/Christian-community-facing leadership. Priests gather and lead the Christian community gathering (breathing in).

Priests in the Church are called to build up Christ’s congregation,
to strengthen the baptised…
to be pastors…
to declare forgiveness through Jesus Christ,
to baptise,
to preside at the Eucharist,
to administer Christ’s holy sacraments.
NZ Anglican ordinal, Prayer Book pg 901

Deacons, on the other hand, are ordained to world-facing, sacrificial leadership. They lead the Christian community dispersed in service in the world (breathing out).

Deacons in the Church of God serve in the name of Christ,
and so remind the whole Church
that serving others is essential to all ministry.
NZ Anglican ordinal, Prayer Book pg 891

Currently, to be ordained a priest (church-facing leadership) you have to be ordained a deacon first (world-facing leadership). This is termed “sequential ordination”. If God is calling you to church-facing leadership rather than world-facing leadership – tough! So most people perceive deacons as apprentice priests. And those God calls to the diaconate (and not to priesthood) are regularly seen as people who haven’t made the grade and are stuck in their apprenticeship.

In the Latin Rite of Roman Catholicism (the majority of Roman Catholics), “permanent deacons” can marry (prior to ordination) and then regularly do priest-like ministry (church-facing, rather than world-facing) because of a shortage of celibate priests. [Other Roman Catholic rites allow for married priests and have a stronger tradition of a clearly differentiated diaconate]

(Unfortunately) I have regularly seen people who once said strongly they were called to the diaconate, after a period decide they were called to priesthood after all. I can only quickly think of one person, I know personally, called to the diaconate who has stayed a deacon.

[I am not in this post going to bring bishops into the discussion. There is an ongoing dispute about the nature of bishops:
Are bishops priests to whom we have delegated the authority to ordain (the position of St Jerome)?
Or are priests delegates of the bishop in the local congregation (so that when the bishop is present the priest ought not to function in that ministry – the position of Theodore of Mopsuestia)?]

As I wrote above, currently to become a priest one must be a deacon first. A different approach, “direct ordination” or “per saltum ordination” (literally “by a leap”) is the understanding that you be ordained directly to the order to which God calls you. If you are to be a deacon, you are ordained a deacon (the current practice); if you are to be a priest, you would be ordained a priest (not a deacon first). Some scholars argue that in the early church all ordinations were per saltum (see Hallenbeck ed. Orders of Ministry). St Ambrose’s direct ordination to the episcopate is probably the most celebrated story.

There seems a surprising amount of emotional energy invested in maintaining the status quo. We have probably all met bishops proudly (sic!) proclaiming “I am still a deacon!” Episcopal Cafe has presented two interesting posts about the emotional dimension against per saltum ordination (part 1; part 2).There is also a discussion about this in the discussion area of Sarah Dylan Breuer’s facebook page. Some theologians hold that per saltum ordinations would be invalid. What is your position? And in the comments area – why?

There will be a sequel to this post in the near future.

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