Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A Modest Proposal 

We always hear about the vocations crisis in this country, the priest shortage, empty pulpits. Various solutions have been proposed - the tiresome cries to ordain women, married men, gays, etc., and the somewhat more serious attempts to renew vocations by restoring appropriate catechesis, renewing the liturgy, and the like.

One method which, to my knowledge, has not yet been tried in the modern church, is the renewal of the most ancient of vocation programs, the routine way by which the earliest and most primitive Christian churches resolved their clergy shortages: forcible ordinations.

We have more than a few notable and well-documented examples. I mean, some of our greatest saints have risen to prominence through the coercive usage of holy orders.

Augustine, already nested into his newly-formed lay contemplative community near his hometown, paid an inauspicious visit to the city of Hippo in 391 to visit a potential member of his community. He knew, of course, that Africa was in the thoes of a horrible clergy shortage, rendered even more acute due to poor education of most existing clergy. With his well-established reputation as an international scholar and public speaker, visiting a city with a frail, elderly bishop who couldn't even speak the local language, Augustine simply should have known better. A riotous crowd met him at the city gates and swept him into the cathedral, where he was ordained posthaste against his will. It was the realization of his worst nightmare: he lamented the loss of his cherished retirement for years afterwards, though he soon accomodated himself to his pastoral duties.

Ambrose, a well-educated Roman aristocrat at the height of a career in the civil service, had finally achieved the crown of his endeavors by securing a post as governor in Milan. When Arians attempted to inferfere in the election of the bishop of that city, Ambrose arrived with a police battalion to quell the riot that erupted. Perhaps Ambrose thought he was immune to the ever-present threat of forcible ordination, since he wasn't even baptized at the time. But when the competing hordes of rioters failed to come to an agreement over an episcopal candidate, someone just had to shout, 'Ambrose for bishop!' The poor governor, in his secretary's account of the affair, made a desparate attempt to flee the city. To no avail. He was baptized and consecrated a bishop a week later.

Gregory Nazianzus' troubles began when his best friend Basil was ordained as bishop of Caesarea, and quickly made hordes of enemies in the Arian-ridden region of Cappadocia. Basil needed some support, so he created a new episcopal see in a virtually non-existent hick town named Sasima and forced Gregory to accept consecration against the latter's will. Gregory, though consecrated, ultimately refused to take over the diocese, though many years later he reluctantly accepted the See of Constantinople.

Other examples could be put forward. A student of church history might be led think that voluntary ordination was a rare think in the ancient world. So why, I ask, should we shrink back from such a course of action today, when so many good Catholic men abound in our churches? Perhaps they lack only . . . the opportunity. So, know any good young Catholic guys?

# posted by Jamie : 1:09 PM


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Ad Limina Apostolorum: An ecclesiastical term meaning a pilgrimage to the sepulchres of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome, i.e., to the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles and to the Basilica of St. Paul "outside the walls".

"Augustine of Hippo Refuting Heretic"
(illuminated manuscript,
13th century)

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