BibleBeltCatholics | Sharing quotes and writings of the Early Church Fathers with our separated Christian brethren in the South!
Home 1st-2nd Century 3rd-4th Century 5th-8th Century The Catechism Today About this site

The Catholic Church and
the term Catholic
Peter and the Papacy
The Sacraments
Mother?of?God Baptism
Immaclate?Conception Confession
Virgin?Birth   Penance
Immaclate?Conception Eucharist
    The Mass
Virgin?Birth   The Real Presence
Virgin?Birth   Clerical celibacy
  Anointing of the Sick
Other Church Teaching
The Word of God
Heaven, Purgatory and Hell

<<  Third and Fourth CenturiesSpacer>>

The Early Church Fathers on the Sacrament of Holy Orders or the Priesthood.


  • Early Church Fathers
  • From the Scriptures



  1. St. Optatus of Milevis, (unknown - A.D. 384)
    St. Cyril of Jerusalem, (A.D. 315-386)
    St. Epiphanius of Salamis, (A.D. 332-403)
    Pope St. Siricius, (A.D. c.334-398)
    St. Gregory of Nyssa, (A.D. c.335 - c.394)
    St. Ambrose of Milan, (A.D. 340-396)
    St. John Chrysostom, (A.D. 344 - 407)


St. Optatus of Milevis, (unknown - A.D. 384), bishop of Milevis, Numidia, in Africa; from Augustine's writings we can assume Optatus was a convert; he is best known for his opposition to the heresy of Donatism.

Eusebius uses the following language of a bishop of his day:

"Who is able to penetrate into these secret recesses, but only He, the great universal High-Priest; whose of right it is to search into the secrets of the rational soul; and perhaps to one other only is it attainable to partake, though in the second place, of an equal power to him, that is, who has been set as the leader of this army; him whom that first and great High-Priest has honored here with the second place in sacred things, the Shepherd of this your divine flock, by the choice and judgment of the Father placed over this people, and whom Himself has appointed His minister and interpreter; a new Aaron, or Melchisedech, bearing the image of the Son of God, abiding and preserved perpetually, by the united prayers of you all. His then alone, after that first and greatest High-Priest, let it be, if not in the first, at least in the second place, both to look into and to watch over the inmost recesses of your soul."

Hist. Eccles. I. x. c. iv.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 218

St. Theophilus of Antioch, (unknown - A.D. c.186), Patriarch of Antioch, born pagan but embraced Christianity by studying the Holy Scriptures, especially the prophetical books. Wrote against idols, made contributions to Christian literature, polemics, exegetics, and apologetics.

"We enjoin that a bishop be ordained (xetpororsitiQai) by three bishops, or at least by two; by one it is not lawful for you to be constituted; for the testimony of two or three is more secure and firm. But a priest, as also a deacon, and the rest of the clergy, by one bishop; but neither priest nor deacon is to ordain clerics from amongst the laity; but simply the priest is to teach, to offer, to baptize, and to bless the people, and the deacon to minister to the bishop and to the priests."

Apostolic Constitutions I. iii. c. xxii.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 217

St. Epiphanius of Salamis, (A.D. 332-403), Palestinian; bishop, abbot, scholar.

"His doctrines were, beyond all human conception, replete with madness. For he asks, "Wherein is a bishop above a priest? They in nothing differ from each other. For their order is one; their honor one; and their dignity one. The bishop imposes hands, but so does the priest: the bishop baptizes, and so does the priest. The bishop goes through the whole economy of worship, and so does the priest. The bishop is seated on a throne, and so is the priest. Herein he led many astray; and they had him for their leader.

Next he asks, "What is this Easter that you celebrate? You are again made to take up with Jewish fables. There is not to be any celebration of the Passover, for Christ our Passover is sacrificed." After this, he next asks, "On what account do you, after their death, mention the names of the departed?"

We will discourse briefly on these things advanced by him, and thus pass them by. And that the whole is full of folly is plain to every man of sense. To say, for example, that a bishop and a priest are equal. How can this be? For the order of bishops is generative of fathers; for it begets fathers to the Church; whereas the priestly order, unable to beget fathers, begets, through the laver of regeneration, children to the Church, but not fathers, or teachers. And how is it possible for him, who has not had hands imposed on him to ordain, to make a priest? And how is it possible to say that such a one is equal to a bishop?

Now, of these, which is the wiser?

This deceived man, who has just now obtained notoriety, and who is still living; or they who were witnesses before us, who held before us the tradition in the Church?"

Adv. Hæres. (75) pp. 906, 908, and 910.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 219-220

Pope St. Siricius, (A.D. c.334-398), an active Pope, involved in the administration of the Church and the handling of various factions and viewpoints within it; author of two decrees concerning clerical celibacy. The decree of A.D. 385 stated that priests should stop cohabiting with their wives.

"The difference of dress indicates also the dignity. If one be a bishop he is distinguished both by his dress and his dignity; if a presbyter, or a deacon, and so of the rest, and if they be unworthy, they shall be stripped (of their dress)."

T. i. Gr. Repreh. sui ipsius.p. 141.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 218-219

"Whose heart is so stony as not henceforth to bewail that hour (of judgment) when bishops shall be separated from their co-bishops; priests from their fellow-priests; and deacons, and subdeacons, and readers from their associates."

T. ii. Gr. In Secund. Advent. Doni. p. 200.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 219

"Having led him (Abraham) from his cell, they conducted him to the city. And (the bishop) having imposed hands on him, sent him forward with gladness accompanied by the clergy."

T. ii. Gr. In Vit. Abraami, p. 4.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 219

St. Gregory of Nyssa, (A.D. c.335 - c.394), bishop of Nyssa in A.D. 371, an erudite theologian who made significant contributions to the doctrine of the Trinity and the Nicene creed. Gregory's philosophical writings were influenced by Origen. He was the brother of the great St. Basil.

"Why should I mention laymen who were not sustained by the possession of any dignity in the Church? Why deacons placed in the third, or presbyters in the second rank of the priesthood. The very heads and chiefs of all, certain bishops, in those days, to purchase, even at the loss of eternal life, the brief delays of this uncertain light, delivered up the records (instrumenta) of the divine law."

De Schism. Donat. L i. n. 13.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 218

St. Ambrose of Milan, (A.D. 340-396), German; reluctantly made bishop in the A.D. 374., Doctor of the Church. He closed a great and glorious career in A.D. 396. We have his life by Paulinus.

"What is signified by this, that after Aaron's death, God gave His command, not to the whole people, but to Moses alone, who is amongst the priests of the Lord, to clothe Eleazar, Aaron's son, with the garments of Aaron the priest; except that we might learn that a priest ought to consecrate a priest . . . For he that will have to supplicate for the people ought to be chosen by the Lord, and approved of by the priests, that there be nothing grievously to offend, in him whose office it is to mediate for the offences of others."

T. ii. Ep. Ixiii. Eccles. Vercell n. 59, p. 1036.

"Who, brother, gives the episcopal grace? God, or man? Thou wilt answer without doubt God: but yet through man does God give it. Man lays on the hand, God bestows the grace. The priest lays on his suppliant right hand, and God blesses with His powerful right hand. The bishop initiates the order, and God bestows the dignity."

T. ii. De Dign. Saeerd. c. v.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 220

St. John Chrysostom, (A.D. 344 - 407), Syrian; archbishop, Doctor of the Church. Born at Antioch in 344; he was ordained priest in A.D. 383, and raised to the see of Constantinople in the year A.D. 398. His eloquence gained him the title of Chrysostom, or the mouth of gold. His expositions of Scripture, especially the Epistles of St. Paul, are very valuable. This illustrious prelate died on his road to exile, in A.D. 407.

"And when they had prayed, they laid their hands upon them." From this it is evident that they separated them from the multitude. Observe how the writer avoids redundancy; for he says not how, but simply, that they were ordained by prayer, for this is the laying on of hands. The hand of man is laid on, but God works all, and it is His hand that touches the heart of him that is ordained, if he be ordained as he ought to be.

T. ix. Hom. xiv. n. 3, p. 138.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 220-221

To the fellow-bishops and deacons (Philippians 1:1).

What is this? Were there many bishops of one city? Not so: but he thus designated the presbyters. For then they still interchanged the names, and the bishop was called a deacon. For this cause, when writing even to Timothy, he said, "Fulfill thy ministry." (deaconship) when he was a bishop. For that he was a bishop, he says to him, "Impose not hands suddenly upon any man." And again, which "was given thee with the imposition of the hands of the priesthood"; and yet presbyters would not have imposed hands on a bishop. And again writing to Titus, he says: "For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldst ordain priests in every city, as I appointed thee. If any be without crime, the husband of one wife," which things he says of the bishop. And after saying this, he added immediately, "For a bishop must be without crime, as the steward of God, not proud." As then I said, both the presbyters were of old called bishops and deacons, and the bishops presbyters: whence even now many bishops write, "To my fellow-presbyter", and "To my fellow-deacon." But otherwise the distinctive name is given to each, the bishop and the priest, To the fellow-bishops, he says, and deacons."

T. xi. Hom. i. in Ep. ad Phil. n. 1, p. 224.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 221



Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: episcopate (the bishop), presbyterate (the priest), and diaconate (the deacon).


The function of the bishops' ministry was handed over in a subordinate degree to priests so that they might be appointed in the order of the priesthood and be co-workers of the episcopal order for the proper fulfillment of the apostolic mission that had been entrusted to it by Christ.


Both bishops and priest, liturgically act, "in the person of Christ, the man", in the service of God and for the salvation of souls. Deacons share in Christ's mission and grace in a special way.



The Church's Scriptures that support the Sacrament of Holy Orders or the Priesthood:


The Great Commission

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."


Matthew 28:16,18-20

The Institution of the Lord's Supper according to Luke.

14 And when the hour came, he sat at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them,
"I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, "Take this, and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on
I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."

Luke 22:14-19

Jesus sends His Apostles, His first priests, to preach the Gospel.

21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you."

John 20:21

Matthias chosen to succeed Judas as the twelfth Apostle.

17 For he was numbered among us, and was allotted his share in this ministry. . . . 21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us— one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection." 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, "Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place." 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.

Acts 1:17, 21-26

The twelve Apostles ask the fellow body of disciples to chose seven more to serve the Church; and the Apostles ordain or lay hands on the chosen ones.

2 And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty.
But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." 5 And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them.

Acts 6:2-6

Barnabas and Saul Commissioned

1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.


Acts 13:1-3

The Apostles Preach in Cyprus

4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them.

Acts 13:4-5

Paul bears witness to his priesthood and speaks to the Ephesian Elders and reminds them of their key role as overseers of the Church

17 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them: "You yourselves know how I lived among you all the time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which befell me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that all you among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom will see my face no more. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son.

Acts 20:17-28

Paul emphasizes the importance of priests in the Church so all may be saved.

14 But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? 15 And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!"

Romans 10:14-15

The ministry of the Apostles

1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.

1 Corinthians 4:1-2

The Church is made up of many types of callings ... one of which is the priest.

28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?

1 Corinthians 12:28-29

The gifts of the Holy Spirit vary and given to various members in the Church.

11 And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.

Ephesians 4:11

Paul encourages his fellow priests not to neglect their priestly calling by their ordination or laying of hands by the council of elders.


14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you. 15 Practice these duties, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

1 Timothy 4:14-16

Paul reminds his fellow priest of their ordination day.

6 Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands;

2 Timothy 1:6

Paul encourages his fellow priests to seek others that can continue to faithfully carry out their priestly ministry.

1 You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.


2 Timothy 2:1-2

Titus appoints bishops in Crete while correcting incorrect teaching.

5 This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.


Titus 1:5

Those called to the priesthood are chosen (among men) by the Church to be priests.

1 For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3 Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4 And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was.

Hebrews 5:1-4

The pastors and priests of the Church are accountable to those entrusted their care: their parish.

7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith. . . . . 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Hebrews 13:7, 17

Please report any and all typos or grammatical errors.
Suggestions for this web page and the web site can be sent to Mike Humphrey
Untitled Document