THREE SIGNIFICANT MOMENTS IN THE THEOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE SACRAMENTAL CHARACTER OF ORDERS: ITS ORIGIN, STANDARDIZATION, AND NEW DIRECTION IN AUGUSTINE, AQUINAS, AND CONGAR

STEPHEN PATRICK MCHENRY, Fordham University

Abstract

The paper attempts to identify the meaning of the sacramental character of orders, as it has been understood historically by three significant theologians, and to translate that meaning into more contemporary theological terms. The purposes of the paper are: (1) to examine how this renewed understanding serves to clarify ministerial roles, both ordained and lay, within the Church today; (2) to uncover the basis for an acceptance of this renewed understanding of the character of orders in the writings of Roman Catholic and other Christian theologians.^ Augustine of Hippo is generally credited with identifying and clarifying the fact that there was a two-fold effect to the sacraments of initiation and orders, the character-effect and the grace-effect. He used the practice of the Roman Army's branding of recruits as a simile to explain the perduring effect of these sacraments. His theological use of the brand was antedated by a long history of the theological use of seal-imagery to explain, albeit with less precision, the effect of these sacraments.^ Thomas Aquinas standardized the meaning of the character, by delving into its nature. Primarily, he viewed it as an instrumental power which capacitated a person to do the works of Christ, in the Church and the world, with the person so marked being configured to the actions of Christ the Priest.^ Yves Congar, O.P., has recovered some of the original and developed meaning of the character, situating it within the context of the Church's ministerial roles. For him, the character of orders enables the person to minister at all, and thereby participate in the ministry of Christ as Priest, Prophet, and King.^ My understanding of the character-effect of orders is that it is an enabling power, given irrevocably in the sacrament, whereby a person is enabled to share in Christ's own power (the power of kenotic, self-sacrificing love), to lay down his life for his people and the world. The character as enablement both clarifies ministerial roles in the Church and provides a theological basis for the ecumenical acceptance of the character of orders. ^

Subject Area

Theology

Recommended Citation

STEPHEN PATRICK MCHENRY, "THREE SIGNIFICANT MOMENTS IN THE THEOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE SACRAMENTAL CHARACTER OF ORDERS: ITS ORIGIN, STANDARDIZATION, AND NEW DIRECTION IN AUGUSTINE, AQUINAS, AND CONGAR" (January 1, 1983). ETD Collection for Fordham University. Paper AAI8323541.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8323541

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