The Saints and Fathers on Fitness and Examination
© Copyright 2007; revised 2010, T. Stanfill Benns (This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author. All emphasis within quotes is the author’s unless indicated otherwise.)
In the matters of examination and fitness for the priesthood, God has clearly spoken. The saints and Fathers of the Church are pre-eminent authorities in way of testimony to the early practices of the Church and Divine institution of the Sacraments and their ceremonies. They mince no words and admit no counterfeits. Speaking of the selection of candidates for the priesthood, St. Cyprian says:
“You must diligently keep and preserve the practice delivered from divine tradition and apostolic observance which also is maintained among us and practically in every province; that for the proper celebration of ordinations [i.e., the consecration of bishops] all the neighboring bishops of the same province should assemble with that people for which a prelate is ordained. And the bishop should be chosen in the presence of the people, who have most fully known the life of each one, and have looked into the doings of each one as respects his habitual conduct.”
Speaking of the selection of candidates for the priesthood, St. John Chrysostom writes:
“… He who puts forward a man qualified for the priestly office should not be satisfied with the voice of the public merely, but in addition he should himself, most of all and before all, examine the qualities of the candidate. For when the Blessed Paul says, ‘Moreover he must have a good testimony of those that are without,’ (1 Tim. 3:7), he does not exclude a careful and searching examination, nor does he set down the testimony as the chief test in so important a matter. For having spoken first of many other tests, he placed this last, to show that one ought not to be satisfied with it in such decisions; but that it, too, should be taken into account along with the rest. For it often happens that the opinion of the public is mistaken, but when a careful investigation is made there is no danger…[So] previous to the testimony from without, a careful examination of the candidate should be made,” (On the Priesthood).
These words come not only from St. Chrysostom, but also from the mouth of St. Paul. In fact in his “Holy Orders and Ordination” (pg. 231), Rev. J. Tixeront refers to the examination of a bishop-elect as “an extremely ancient” ceremony; proven here by St. Chrysostom from Holy Scripture in the case of priests. Not only does the omission of these examinations violate Scripture as Divine revelation, it also violates revealed tradition, the second component of Divine revelation. That the truths of the Catholic faith are derived from Scripture and Tradition is an infallible truth. If both Scripture and revealed tradition are ignored or slighted in any way in this unholy quest for Orders, how can anyone deny that positive doubt exists concerning a lack of orthodoxy?! Certainly formal certitude in such important matters is clearly lacking.
And this is not the only scriptural reference made to examinations and the fitness of priests or the only comment made by St. Chrysostom. The following quote is taken from the decree, The Sacred Congregation of Sacrament’s Instruction to Local Ordinaries Regarding the Investigation to be Made Previous to Ordination of Seminarians, was issued Dec. 26, 1930. Ratified personally by Pope Pius XI, it states:
“To guard against the many and enormous evils to the Church itself and for the faithful, the bishops who have been appointed by the Holy Ghost to rule the Church of God must exercise the greatest care in barring access to this great ministry against those who lack a priestly vocation and to whom, consequently, the words of Christ Our Lord must be applied: He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up another way, the same is a thief and a robber,” (Jn. 10:1).’ The Sacred Congregation takes special pains to call to mind the words of St. Paul in his Epistle to Timothy: ‘Impose not hands lightly on any man; neither be partakers of other men’s sins.’ Reference to this text is made in the Code of Canon Law, which also gives more explicit explanation…in Canon 973 §3.” Pope Pius XI wrote: “This canon is a clear echo of the warning of the Apostle to Timothy…St. Leo the Great expounds: ‘To impose hands lightly is to confer the sacerdotal dignity on persons not sufficiently approved: …before a time of testing, before trial of knowledge.’…Listen to the warning of St. John Chrysostom: ‘Impose not hands after the first trial, nor after the second, nor yet the third, but only after frequent and careful observation and searching examination.’”
Traditionalists object to such rigorous investigation on the grounds that such things are not expected in these chaotic times. But quoting Pope Leo XIII in his “In haerant animo” on this very topic, St. Pius X warns against the dangers of believing “that some of the Christian virtues are not opportune in certain times…[This] could occur only to a mind that had forgotten the words of the Apostle: ‘For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be made conformable to the image of His Son,’ (Rom. 8:29). The teacher and examplar of every form of holiness is Christ, and to His model all those who wish to attain the regions of the blessed must form themselves. Now He is not changed by the passing ages but is ‘Jesus Christ yesterday, today and the same forever,’ (Heb. 8:8). So to the men of every age these words are directed, ‘Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart,’ (Matt. 11:29 …These words of the Apostle are true for every age: ‘They that are Christ’s have crucified their flesh with the vices and concupiscences,’ (Gal. 5:24).” So let no one state, as the Traditionalists are so fond of doing, that it is impossible for priests or candidates to the priesthood to live up to this standard of holiness today, or that because of the present crisis God does not expect them to strive for such holiness and do all in their power to achieve it. God never proposes an end unless He also provides the means, even if these means involve great effort and sacrifice and even His direct intervention, as St. Francis de Sales suggests. To believe otherwise is contrary to Pope St. Pius X’s teaching in his Oath Against Modernism, where he states: “The doctrines of faith are transmitted from the Apostles through the orthodox Fathers, always in the same sense and interpretation, even to us; and so I reject the heretical invention of the evolution of dogmas, passing from one meaning to another, different from that which the Church first had.”
Pope St. Gregory the Great, in his timeless work on Pastoral Care explains how this has happened in some cases today, and tells us why this is so:
“Let him confirm with the example of his life the teaching of those who do not believe his words; and when he has performed a good work, let him remember the evil he has done…lest he be puffed up in spirit before the eyes of the unseen Judge, and inflamed with pride, and so through his egotism lose his good works. But there are many who, although they were never disciples, yet wish to be teachers and think the burden of teaching very light because they do not know the power of its greatness…From the beginning of this discourse, the arrogant are driven away and blamed who arrogate to themselves the art of teaching which they never learned…
“Why are the unlearned ever so rash as to undertake the care of teaching, when the art of teaching is the art of all arts?…Sometimes those who are to be physicians of the mind, although they cannot understand anything of the spiritual precepts, are not ashamed of taking upon themselves to be physicians of the mind…Many pretend to be pious teachers because they desire great worldly honor. Christ…said thus: ‘They desire to be greeted first and honored in market-places and at banquets…and they seek the most honorable seat in assemblies. ‘ Since with pride and vainglory they thus arrive at the honor of pastoral care, they are unable properly to fulfill the duties of their ministration and to become teachers of humility…They teach one thing having learnt another.
“Such men God chided through the prophet and reproached them with such doings when He said: ‘They reigned but not by my will; they were princes and I knew them not.’ Those who so rule, rule through their own power, not through that of the highest Judge, since they are not supported on any foundation of the Divine power, nor chosen for any excellence, but they are inflamed by their own desire, so as to seize on so high an office rather than obtain it by their desserts. And the eternal and unseen Judge exalts them as if He knew them not, and suffers it without interfering, as an example of patience. But although they perform many wonders in their office, when they come to him He says: ‘Depart from Me, ye evildoers; I know not what ye are.’ Again He rebuked them through the prophet for their want of learning when He said, ‘The shepherds had not understanding; they had My law, and knew Me not.’
“He who know not God’s commands is not acknowledged by God. The same said St. Paul: “He who knows not God, God knows not him.” Foolish teachers come for the people’s sins. Therefore often for the teacher’s folly the disciples come to grief; and often through the teacher’s wisdom, foolish disciples are preserved. If then both are foolish, we must consider what Christ Himself said in His Gospel: ‘If the blind lead the blind, they both shall fall into a pit.’ On the same subject the Psalmist spoke: “May their eyes be dimmed that they may not see, and their back always bent. He did not say this because he wished or desired it to befall any man, but he prophesied how it would happen…[For] when the eyes of the teacher are dimmed, which ought to go before with good examples, the people bend their backs under many heavy burdens,” (A Treasury of Early Christianity, edited by Anne Fremantle).
St. Thomas Aquinas, who Trads and Conclavists alike call to witness for their heresies, likewise opines on those who are unworthy or unfit for office:
“ ‘Whosoever of the seed of Aaron …hath a blemish, he shall not offer bread to his God, neither shall he approach to minister to him,’ (Lev. 21: 17, 18). ‘Now blemish signifies all kinds of vice,’ according to a gloss. Therefore he who is shackled by any vice should not be admitted to the ministry of Orders. Further St. Jerome, commenting on the words of Titus 2: 15, ‘Let no man despise thee,’ says that not only should bishops, priests and deacons take very good care to be examples of speech and conduct to those over whom they are placed, but also the lower grades, and without exception all who serve the household of God, since it is most disastrous to the Church if the laity be better than the clergy.’ Therefore holiness of life is requisite in all the Orders.
“… As Dionysius says…’In all things pertaining to God, a man must not dare to become a leader of others unless in all his habits he be most deiform and godlike.’ Wherefore, since in every order a man is appointed to lead others in Divine things, he who being conscious of mortal sin presents himself for Orders is guilty of presumption and sins mortally. Consequently holiness of life is requisite for Orders, as a matter of precept, but not as essential to the Sacrament. And if a wicked man be ordained, he receives the Order none the less and yet with sin withal…The ordained…should shine with a good conscience before God, and with a good name before men,” (Suppl., Q. 36, Art. 1).
Concerning bishops who raise the unworthy to Orders, Aquinas states: “It is worse to raise the wicked to the ministry than not to correct those who are raised already. But Heli sinned mortally by not correcting his sons for their wickedness; wherefore ‘he fell backwards…and died,’ (1 Kings 4: 18). Therefore he who promotes the unworthy does not escape sin…A man would commit a mortal sin were he knowingly to endanger the temporalities of the Church. Much more therefore it is a mortal sin to endanger spiritual things. But whoever promotes the unworthy endangers spiritual things, since according to Gregory (Hom. 12, in Ev): ‘If a man’s life is contemptible, his teaching is liable to be despised;’ and for the same reason all the spiritual things that he dispenses. Therefore he who promotes the unworthy sins mortally.
“… Our Lord describes the faithful servant over whom He has set over his household to give them their measure of wheat. Hence he is guilty of unfaithfulness who gives any man Divine things above his measure; and whosoever promotes the unworthy does this. Wherefore he commits a mortal crime, as being unfaithful to his sovereign Lord, especially since this is detrimental to the Church and to the Divine honor which is promoted by good ministers, For a man would be unfaithful to his earthly lord were he to place unworthy subjects in his offices.”
Concerning the exercise of the priesthood by a sinful man, St. Thomas says: “Dionysius says… ‘It seems presumptuous for such a man, to wit one who is not enlightened, to lay hands on priestly things; he is not afraid nor ashamed, all unworthy that he is, to take part in Divine things, with the thought that God does not see what he sees in himself; he thinks by false pretense to cheat Him whom he falsely calls his Father; he dares to utter in the person of Christ words polluted by his infamy — I will not call them prayers — over the Divine symbols.’ Therefore a priest is a blasphemer and a cheat if he exercises his Order unworthily, and thus he sins mortally; and in like manner any other person in Orders.
“Further, holiness of life is required in one who receives an Order, that he may be qualified to exercise it. Now a man sins mortally if he presents himself for Orders in mortal sin. Much more, therefore, does he sin mortally whenever he exercises his Order…” Allowing no dispensation from this unworthy state, St. Thomas notes: “The natural law allows of no dispensation; and it is of natural law that man handle holy things holily. Therefore no one can dispense from this,” (Suppl. Q. 36, Arts. 4, 5).
Can we be surprised, then, when the unworthy mishandle holy things, that God would not hear our prayers and alleviate our misery? Hear what Canon Arvisenet, speaking to seminarians and priests as Christ, tells those who unworthily conduct public ceremonies: “How long will you dishonor me? How long will you trample underfoot the faith and piety of my people? How long will My flock cry out in indignation: Where is their God? Can we believe that he will come down on their altar? Will he not destroy those who have violated his sanctuary…Let fire come from thy tabernacle and devour them, and let them expire before thy face. They have taken away faith by living, let them restore it by dying,” (Epitome of the Priestly Life). So the very thing which deprived us of the Mass deprives us still of the papacy. For as the prophet Daniel said: the Continual Sacrifice was taken away because of sins; Melanie stated that Our Lady of La Salette said the predicted punishments would come because of wicked priests. Now the papacy is exercised by he who has the fullness of the priesthood. This supreme office is the symbol of Christ’s universal teaching authority; the Mass and the papacy are the intertwined symbols of Catholic unity. So when both fail (at least apparently), no surer indication of God’s will could exist. The absence of the Mass and Sacraments was rightly interpreted as a punishment in the book of Daniel, for he says that it is “for sins” that the continual sacrifice fails. During this, the passion of the Mystical Body, we stand at the empty tomb of Our Lord and know not where the Enemy has laid Him. Traditionalist bishops and antipopes would have us believe they work for the restoration of the Church. But their collective efforts have only succeeded in scandalizing the faithful and fulminating heresy and schism.
The Mass and Sacraments have not returned, and if they are made to appear to return according to the ideas of these false prophets, they will be just as offensive to God as those of the false church in Rome, perhaps more so for appearing to issue from valid and licit clergy and even “popes” who are anything but valid and licit. There has been no great influx of converts which should gradually have come following a true revival of the Church since the death of Pope Pius XII; no cessation of the evils in this world, or a return to holiness of life and upright behavior. It is no coincidence that the reign of Angelo Roncalli brought with it moral and spiritual disaster worldwide. This perversion has risen to frightening proportions since then, for seven devils even worse than the first now reign in Christ’s Church. Why?
Because the men claiming the chair reserved for Christ’s Vicar are all usurpers; all false christs who offended him more intimately for proclaiming to be promoting the truth. By bringing this message closer to home, God wished to clearly demonstrate that He also has removed the papacy from our midst as a punishment, since Mass, Sacraments and papacy must be seen as one, unbroken unity. It is not for man to try and interfere with this two-fold punishment. We have been sent into captivity as the Israelites of old, and God alone will decide when that banishment shall end.
This is supported by the teaching of Henry Cardinal Manning, in his The Present Crisis of the Holy See Tested by Prophecy: “When…was the Church of God ever in a weaker condition? And from whence…is deliverance to come? Is there on earth any power to intervene? Not one; and it is foretold it should be so. Neither need we desire it; for the will of God seems to be otherwise.” If elsewhere Manning has said that the Pope will rule possibly from exile, and regardless of how bad things may get shall always be infallible in faith, yet this is only his opinion based on the indefectibility of the Church. No one ever believed it would become so bad that there would be no Roman Pontiff, nor scarcely any hope of ever attaining one. And yet if the sacrifice ceases, he who withholdeth is removed, and the abominations set up, how can it not be as St Francis de Sales explained: the Church will for that time not be visible? Christ rebuked St. Peter for cutting off the ear of Caiphas’ servant, and His words to Peter were the prelude to His physical Passion, as well as the Passion of the Church: “How then can the scriptures be fulfilled, that so it must be done?” Following that, Peter denied Him and all the apostles save St. John the Divine ran away.
The Scriptures must be fulfilled; we must see that only God can determine the time when the cup wanting to the Passion of His Church is completely full. These lawless claimants to episcopal orders and honors may not be antichrist proper, but most certainly they are or were imbued with his spirit. Cardinal Manning describes the Man of Sin, (the “Lawless One,” as St. Paul describes him), as “one who is without law, who is not subject to the law of God [natural law; see St. Thomas above] or of man, whose only law is his own will, to whom the license of his own will is the sole and only rule which he knows or obeys.” Certainly this describes the behavior of these men, for they use or have used their titles to pretend to be above all others and refuse to admit they have erred or could err in any way or be judged by any man. In speaking of the power an inferior may have over a superior in regards to Confession, St. Thomas writes, “Now the power of the keys is the remedy for sin. Therefore, since [a superior] cannot use the key on himself, for he cannot be both judge and accused at the same time, it seems that an inferior can use the power of the keys on him…[A superior] cannot use the power of the keys on himself because this power requires to be exercised on a subject…for no man can be subject to himself.”
None of these hirelings can escape God’s tribunal whether in the confessional, the examinations prior to ordination/consecration, or the Heavenly tribunal at the time of the private judgment. May God grant them all the grace to repent and amend their evil ways, that the remaining remnant be not drug down with them to perdition.