|Dear Rev. Know-It-All,
I get very confused by all the titles and
names used by Catholics. What is the difference between Cardinals and bishops
or archbishops. You’ve got monsignors and pastors and archdeacons and
mitred abbesses and protonotaries apostolic. Can you explain?
It’s really not that complicated, but,
as with most things a little history is important.
First let’s define hierarchy. In
current language “hierarchy” means “chain of command.” This is
not its original meaning. It’s a Greek word that means “sacred leadership.”
The first sacred leadership was created by God at the beginning of time.
It’s called “Mom and Dad.” They may be in charge, but the center
of the household isn’t mom or dad. Ask any parent. It’s the kids. Real
leadership is about service and if a hierarchy is doing its job it is serving.
The pope is called “the servant of the servants of God.” That’s the
sense of the word “hierarchy” in Catholic thought.
From the first century until now, the basic
structure of the hierarchy is really very simple: bishop, priest, deacon
and laity. “Bishop” comes from the Greek word “episcopos”
which literally means supervisor, one who has oversight. “Priest” comes
from the word “presbyteros” which means elder, one who is older in
the Lord. “Deacon” comes from the Greek word “diakonos” which means
table waiter or steward, and finally the word laity (or layman or laywoman)
comes from the Greek word “laos” which means “the people.” So there
you have it: bishop, priest and deacon, dedicated to the care of the people
Are you ready for more Greek?
(What’s with all the Greek?
Why don’t you just use English? English!! English changes word meanings
faster than Imelda Marcos changes shoes. In a hundred years English will
be incomprehensible by today’s standards. Ancient Greek will still be
ancient Greek. That’s why!)
Where was I? Oh yes, another Greek word: Diocese.
Diocese is a Greek word meaning administrative district. The Catholic
Church is arranged into administrative districts served by supervisors,
elder and stewards.
“Wait a minute. It can’t be that simple.
The pope is a pretty big deal in Catholicism, as far as I’ve heard.”
Well, the pope is the Bishop of Rome, and Rome is the city where St. Peter
and St. Paul served, were martyred and are buried. The first Christians
believed the role of St. Peter passed on to his spiritual descendants.
Jesus had given him the keys of the kingdom and had told him to strengthen
his brethren. (Matt 16:19 and Luke 22:32) In particular the phrase “keys
of the kingdom of heaven” refers to Isaiah, 22:15-25. In the Old Testament,
the king had a kind of prime minister or vizier, called the “Albayit.”
It was a hereditary position, but Hezekiah, the king threw Shebna and his
family out of the job and replaced him with Eliakim son of Hilkiah. Jesus
was referring to a hereditary post when he gave Peter the keys of the kingdom.
The first Christians took this to mean that Peter’s successor would continue
his ministry of teaching and governing. In 180 AD, St Irenaeus of Lyon,
a Greek who was Bishop of a city in what is now Southern France wrote the
following in “Adversus Haereses."
“We point to the tradition of that very
great and very ancient and universally known Church, which was founded
and established at Rome, by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul.
We point, I say, to the tradition which this Church has from the Apostles...
which comes down to our time through the succession of her bishops....,
and so we put to shame . . . all who assemble in unauthorized meetings.
For with this Church, because of its superior authority, every Church must
St. Irenaeus was born around 120 AD and
had been a disciple of St. Polycarp who had been a disciple of St. John,
so this belief that the bishop of Rome had a unique role in the Church
goes back to the first days of the faith. “Well,” you may ask, “What
is the difference between the pope and the Bishop of Rome?” To which
I would respond, “None at all.” The word “Pope,” or “papa”
as most languages say it, means exactly that: papa. It derives from the
Semitic word “abba” and means “dad,” “pappa.” It is a
diminutive for Father. Hence, we call the bishop of Rome the Holy Father
or the Pope, just as St. Paul thought of himself a father to the Corinthians.
(I Cor. 4:14,15) In the same way the Bishop of Rome has been thought of
as a father to the whole Church since its first days and thus is called,
the Holy Father, and “Papa,” but he is the bishop of Rome, the successor
of St. Peter.
The bishop of Rome has jurisdiction over
the bishops and faithful of the whole world and appoints bishops in consultation
with the local community. He can also remove bishops, but in fact this
is almost never done. When a bishop needs to go, the Pope will first call
him over to Rome for a chat and suggest that, for the good of the Church,
he resign. If he refuses, there will be canonical process to remove
the bishop (“canonical” means having to do with Church law.) If a bishop
does anything that excommunicates him, automatically he loses all his status
and his powers immediately without a process. One thinks of the wacky bishop
a few years back who joined the Moonies and got married.)
The pope is the visible source of the unity
of the bishops and of the faithful. Vatican II reaffirmed everything Vatican
I taught about the papacy and infallibility, but taught that bishops are
not “vicars of the Roman Pontiff," but in their local dioceses
they are “vicars (representatives)... of Christ." So, it would seem that
the pope is the universal representative of Christ and bishops are the
local vicars of Christ. He has this role, quite simply because he
is the Bishop of Rome.
Two interesting side notes: What does it
mean that the pope is the bishop of Rome and why do popes change their
name when they become pope?
Though the pope is the diocesan Bishop
of the Diocese of Rome, he delegates most of the day-to-day work of leading
the diocese to the Cardinal Vicar, who has direct oversight of the
diocese's pastoral needs. The Cathedral of Rome is not St. Peter’s, it
is St. John Lateran. St Peter’s is where the pope lives and works as
the universal shepherd.
Originally the popes used their baptismal
names. In AD 533, a man named Mercurius was elected pope. He decided that
it would be wrong for a pope to be named after a Roman god, so he
changed his name to John and was known as Pope John II. From that time
on some popes took a new name and some kept their baptismal name.
The symbolism of taking a new name at Baptism
or Confirmation is the same. In Christ we become new, thus a new name.
As soon as the new pope is elected, and accepts the election, he is asked,
“By what name shall you be called?" The senior Cardinal Deacon,
or Cardinal Protodeacon, (believe it or not, a lower ranking cardinal.
I’ll explain later) comes out onto the balcony of Saint Peter's and says
"I announce to you a great joy: We have a Pope! The Most Eminent and Most
Reverend Lord, (“Lord ," is used here in the medieval sense of “Lords
and Ladies," not in the biblical sense) Lord (first name), Cardinal of
the Holy Roman Church (last or family name) who takes to himself
the name (name as pope)" It's quite an exciting moment.
I still remember when Pope John Paul II
was elected. I still remember thinking," Wotyla? That doesn't sound very
Italian." And it wasn't!!!
A pope usually chooses his new name to
indicate whom he wants to imitate in his papacy. The current pope chose
the name Benedict, because the last Pope Benedict struggled through
the crisis in Europe between the wars. Benedict XVI has a heart for the
re-conversion of Europe and the revival of Christian culture. Interestingly
Pope Benedict published the book “Jesus” (a wonderful bible
study book) under both his baptismal and papal names. He implied by doing
this that this was a book he had started as Joseph Ratzinger, and it was
not to be taken as papal teaching.
much more to follow.) - cleck here for Part 2
Here To Ask The Reverend Know-It-All A Question
What's with all
the titles in the Church?
Part 1 of 5 Parts