Church office

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The ecclesiastical office is characterized by a permanent transfer to the relevant office holder as well as a legal and Christian-theological justification. The development of the ministry structure is one of the fundamental elements of every church .

A public official is a ( qualified ) person who is entrusted with the task of managing (the administration ) within an administration as the organization bound by instructions . The institutional framework of an administration ensures compliance with a system of rules that shapes, stabilizes and steers the social behavior and action of individuals, groups or members and communities in a defined way, so that it can be expected by other participants in the interaction . The task of organized administration consists in a complex of tasks, task-related recording, looking after, managing, guiding, sanctioning and thus taking responsibility for dynamic systems according to stable regulations, here within church structures.

Historical development of an office structure in the 1st to 3rd centuries

The origins for the formation of the office structure are in the 1st century, around the years 90/100. Around 150–180, at the latest by the 3rd century, the three-part office structure with bishop, presbyter and deacon had developed everywhere .

The prevailing opinion was that no three-stage development of the office had developed among the first Christians. Instead, there were a variety of different functions for preaching, teaching, church leadership and care. A uniform management structure had not yet developed. In Jerusalem there was the presbyteral constitution, in Palestine and Syria there was supervision by traveling preachers and in the Pauline congregations there was the functional church leadership .

The presbyterian constitution was modeled on the synagogues . After 50 AD she replaced the apostles' leadership . The presbyterian constitution also existed in Asia Minor and Rome. In Palestine and Syria, on the other hand, the first Christians were cared for by traveling preachers, who were often referred to as "apostles" or "prophets". Their main task was preaching and teaching.

In the Pauline congregations, however, the office was already tied to a specific location. The functions were assigned by community members according to their personal suitability, but initially without a fixed division of competencies or personal assignment. From the year 60 on, the terms "Episkopos" (overseer) and "Diakonos" (servant, assistant) can be proven. Around the year 80 the episcopes are likely to have become the actual leaders of the congregations, although at that time there was no monepiscopate, i.e. no leadership by a single episcopus.

The further development of the office structure is only sparsely attested. The combination of the presbyterian constitution and the Pauline model resulted in the collective leadership of a church between 80 and 150 being the predominant principle. It was a college of presbyters (elders), some of whom were also referred to as "episcopes". The current form of the episcopate did not yet exist.

The first Epistle of Clement , written between 95 and 100, testifies to the existence of apostolic succession . The letter justifies the dignity of the church offices by the fact that the apostles sent by Jesus Christ have appointed their disciples as rulers everywhere in the churches they founded, who in turn passed this office on to their students.

The practice of ordination , which arose around the same time, is closely related to the development of the idea of ​​succession . The officials were legitimized by the laying on of hands, which is documented in the Bible . This initially affected those from the college of presbyters who were entrusted with leadership tasks, i.e. episcopes. The Christian ordination meant the commitment of the commissioner to the apostolic teaching tradition. The pastoral letters finally let the trend shows that from among the presbyters a protruding, who as Bishop (Episkopos) special dignity has. This led to the emergence of the so-called Monepiscopate . Each congregation should be led by only one bishop, an ideal that slowly asserted itself in the 2nd century. At the same time, the church father Ignatius developed a theology of spiritual ministry and interpreted the triads of bishop, presbyter and deacon as an image of the heavenly hierarchy of God, Christ, and apostles. He also assigns the bishop the vital role of church leadership, especially to keep heretical teachings away from church members.

The defense against heretical teachings accelerated the consolidation of the office structure. The office of bishop, initially understood primarily as a teaching office, but then more and more as a leadership office, was intended to ensure continuity with the apostolic tradition. The church father Irenaeus of Lyon and also Tertullian emphasized against the gnosis with their secret revelations that the succession of the bishops guaranteed the truth of the church doctrine. Another important representative of this episcopalism was the church father Cyprian . First of all, succession meant continuity in teaching. From the 3rd century onwards, consecration became more and more important, which led to an increase in the importance of office continuity. The bishop became the foundation of the church, whoever was not in unity with the bishop did not belong to the church according to Cyprian.

Since the third century, all essential parish activities have been under the authority of the respective local bishop . This was particularly true of religious services, in particular the celebration of the sacraments of the Eucharist , Baptism and Penance ; ecclesiastical justice and poor welfare. This shaped the church structure for the following centuries. The competencies of the bishop were also limited insofar as the synodal system was already being developed in the 3rd century . Synods (councils) were made up of bishops and had decision-making power to which the individual bishop also had to submit.

A bishop was elected in the early days by the entire congregation, including the local clergy, and he was ordained by bishops from neighboring congregations. This changed from the 4th and 5th centuries. Now the bishop of the provincial capital, the metropolitan , played a major role in the election and ordination, but the participation of the laity declined. Restrictions arose from the fact that with the increasing spread of Christianity, a bishop was no longer installed in every city. Instead, the bishop instructed clergy with delegated powers to take over pastoral care in parishes remote from the episcopal city. The parish structure developed from this .

The assumption of the priesthood

The pagan religions knew the office of the priest (lat. Sacerdos ). The German word “priest”, which is used for translation, is itself derived from the Christian name of the presbyteroi , who had to oversee the cult. The adoption of this designation for the bishops is attested for the first time in Tertullian and Hippolytus . This meant an approach to the late antique environment, with whose cult one had entered into competition. In addition, the adoption of the name made it possible for the bishop to legitimize himself as a sacred minister in Roman-Hellenistic society. Later the name was also transferred to the presbyters. In a similar process, the bishops adopted the title of pontiff , derived from the pagan-Roman Collegium pontificum , which oversaw all cults . This refers to all bishops, but in German (except for word stems such as the pontifical office as the high office of the bishop) it is only used as an abbreviation for pontifex maximus - this is also a Roman title that the head of the college of priests mentioned and then carried passed on to the Pope .

Roman Catholic Church

In the Roman Catholic Church , an office is first of all "any service that is permanently established by divine or ecclesiastical ordinance and that serves a spiritual purpose."

The acceptance of an ecclesiastical office presupposes the reception of the sacrament of consecration in the Catholic Church ; The ecclesiastical office, which has the character of a service, confers the office of teaching (KKK 888), of sanctifying (KKK 893) and of leading (KKK 894) in the hierarchy of the church.

The fullness of this office, which according to church teaching is exercised personally in the name of Jesus Christ, is held by the local bishop for his diocese ; the college of bishops itself is hierarchically structured, with the Pope as the successor of St. Peter as head, modeled on the twelve apostles .

In particular, the bishop has to exercise his office in communion with the whole college and with the Pope as its pastors. If necessary, this includes obedience to its primacy of jurisdiction . However, the primacy of jurisdiction is not exercised through regular instructions.

The bishop assigns the priests and deacons , sometimes also the titular bishops assigned to him by the Pope as auxiliary bishops , their sphere of activity, which in turn is designated as an office . Offices that are exercised by priests are, for example, that of vicar general , episcopal vicar , dean , pastor or parish vicar or that of category pastor (who are called chaplains in canon law ); but also the different offices of the Roman Curia . Deacons are usually assigned to a parish; earlier they could also take on higher-ranking administrative offices up to directly under the bishop (as archdeacon ).

In Germany, as a rule, they are also accepted into church officials with the changes resulting from canon law and the special features of the law on priestly service . As such, they are given an official title . Canonical and secular office designations can differ, for example the (canonical) chaplain of a hospital bears the (secular) office designation "pastor". A military chaplain even carries an official title, e.g. B. "Military pastor" (not as a church, but as a federal civil servant) after military use also an official position , "local pastor". It is customary to address such priests by their secular title. Again differentiated from this are papal and episcopal honorary titles , comparable to the Austrian secular professional titles (clergyman, honorary canon, monsignor, prelate, apostolic protonotary): these are, if awarded, preferably used for salutation.

Protestant churches

In the Protestant churches , the term “office” describes a superordinate spiritual office that includes a variety of functions and tasks within the church.

The doctrine of four offices , which goes back to Martin Bucer , developed within the evangelical reformed churches . In many Protestant free churches , on the other hand, threefold offices emerged. For the Anabaptist Mennonites , the offices of elders (sometimes also called bishops ), preachers (or pastors ) and deacons can be named. On the brother farms of the Hutterites there was one servant of the word (≈ preacher) and one servant of necessity (≈ deacon).

According to the Evangelical Lutheran Confessions , the spiritual office or preaching office or office is the key set by God to preach the Gospel purely and to administer the sacraments according to their institution ( CA V). In exercising the ministry, the minister acts as a representative of Christ ( ApolCA VII). Anyone who wants to exercise the ministry must be ordained by the Church (CA XIV).

Women in offices

In the history of the Church, women could not hold ecclesiastical offices until the 20th century (in relation to the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches). This leads to the question, whether this has always been the case.

A well-known passage from the Bible in this connection is 1 Cor 14.33b – 35  EU : “As is customary in all churches of the saints, 34 the women in the congregation are to be silent; they are not allowed to speak. They should submit, as the law requires. If they want to know anything, they should ask their husbands at home; for it is not proper for a woman to speak in front of the congregation. ”Theological discussion is how Paul might have meant this, whether another view emerges from other passages in the Bible - for example, Paul allows public prayer and prophetic speaking by women ( 1 Cor 11.5  EU ), as long as the rules of propriety are observed - and whether with the justification that Paul was a “man of the culture of that time”, biblical provisions, which are often seen as culturally conditioned, are again disregarded by the church could. From the perspective of the grown theology more problematic are some opinions that either reject the Apostle Paul personally (as a "misogynist") or, conversely, regard the biblical passage in question as non-binding on the grounds that it is not from Paul himself - problematic because it is independent of the From different points of view it can be stated objectively that such arguments, seen logically, amount to a new arrangement of the Holy Scriptures .

Exegetical problems

In part, a linguistic problem is assumed in the exegetical literature, which amounts to an argument as in the following scheme:

  • The masculine in Greek and Latin includes women in early Christian texts, for example in "Saints", "Chosen" and "Righteous"
  • Women do not have to be mentioned separately
  • Because women don't need to be named, they aren't named
  • Women in offices do not need to be researched because they are not specifically named
  • Because women are not specifically named in offices, there were no women in offices
  • Because there have been no women in office in the tradition of the Church, women are not supposed to hold offices

Research approach

Historical research on women tries in a differentiated manner to fathom the multi-dimensionality of early Christian society and its history. For this purpose, an interdisciplinary research perspective uses the methodology from the areas of religious and social sciences , from theology and gender studies with a view to critically reflecting on the interests that guide knowledge.

Dealing with the question of whether the exclusion of women can be historically proven by facts or, if not, how this exclusion came about, requires, among other things, the inclusion of the following aspects: At the linguistic level, the meaning of terms changes in the analysis of the source material consider. The generic masculine in Greek and Latin does not clearly indicate whether women were included, absent or explicitly not included. In addition, the sources and texts in their context of creation and the possibility of incompleteness due to time must be taken into account.

Development of offices in the Church

  • House churches

Congregational life in Asia Minor from the 1st to 3rd centuries was shaped socially, politically, economically and religiously by Hellenistic-Roman antiquity. In numerous house churches , which together formed the local congregations, early Christian coexistence took place without a fixed system of order. The individual house church is to be understood as the base of the mission, meeting place, room of prayer and as a place of instruction in the Christian message. The New Testament letters document the exchange between the local congregations through the wandering charismatics who moved from place to place.

  • Charismatic authority

In the first century it was not yet possible to speak of a concept of office. The early Church knew various management roles such as the deacon and the apostles ( ActsEU ). In addition, prominent functions with charismatic properties were justified. The prophecy was regarded as one of the highest gifts of the Spirit and legitimized the authority of itinerant prophets .

  • Household “God” - Official Authority

In the period from the 1st to the 3rd century, a development from the house church model to the household of “God” can be discerned, which entails a shift in authority from supraregional to regional offices. Charismatic traits become less important, while local church leaders gain authority as the “successors of the apostles”. Prophecy is gradually disappearing from the churches or being marginalized. At the end of this process of institutionalization of the various local congregations into a large church, there was a patriarchal organizational structure with a tripartite office in which the bishop was the chief shepherd over the presbyters and deacons. Initially women are still active as deacons until this service disappears.



  • Wolf-Dieter Hauschild : Textbook of the Churches and the History of Dogmas, Volume 1, Old Church and Middle Ages 3rd edition Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 1995, ISBN 3-579-00093-4 .
  • Ute Eisen: Office Holders in Early Christianity. Epigraphic and literary studies . Göttingen 1996. (Research on Church and Dogma History 61)
  • Luise Schottroff: Servants of the saints. The diaconate of women in the New Testament In: Gerhard K. Schäfer, Theodor Strohm (ed.): Diakonie - biblical foundations and orientations. A workbook for theological understanding about the diaconal mission , Heidelberg 1990, pp. 222–242

Individual evidence

  1. Der Kleine Stowasser , entry Pontifex
  2. Codex Juris Canonici , can. 145.
  3. KKK 874ff.
  4. KKK 875-876
  5. ^ Ministry (Switzerland, South Germany, France, North America). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, accessed June 1, 2016 .

House sign

  1. a b c d e Hauschild: Textbook of Dogma and Church History I. 3rd ed. P. 88.
  2. Hauschild: Textbook of Dogma and Church History I. 3rd edition p. 89: The demand for a monepiscopate made at the time means that such a monepiscopate did not yet exist.
  3. a b c d Hauschild: Textbook of Dogma and Church History I. 3rd ed., P. 89.
  4. Hauschild: Textbook of Dogma and Church History I. 3rd edition p. 90
  5. Hauschild: Textbook of Dogma and Church History I. 3rd ed. P. 91.