Priesthood and Presbyterium in the Code

I. Premise

The thesis held by some after the Second Vatican Council – and not without a bit of delusion – that the Council did not succeed in treating the problem of priests in the same organic way as it had treated that of bishops and the laity, is not entirely without foundation.
This doctrinal lack of balance, whose features are becoming still more evident in the context of the global ecclesiological restructuring worked by Vatican II, has undoubtedly contributed to the spreading of the crisis undergone by the diocesan clergy after the Council.
In fact, the two conciliar Decrees on the Formation of Priests, “Optatam totius” (OT), and on the Ministry and Life of Priests, “Presbyterorum ordinis” (PO),were insufficient to protect the clergy from this disorientation. This is true of the former because it remained overly tied, from the educational perspective, to the Tridentine image of the priesthood. 1 It is true of the latter because the it did not dare to venture beyond the doctrinal horizon fixed in a very condensed way by LG28. 2 On the other hand, the elements concerning priests contained in nn. 28-32 of the Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops “Christus Dominus” (CD), have a considerable disciplinary import, but they leave the doctrinal coordinates implicit. In particular, the Decree OT did not fully re-think the transformations that have occurred not only in the current ecclesial context, but above all in its socio-cultural context, profoundly transformed in these last decades, so as to be able to offer an educational model capable of conferring a new identity to priests and of meeting contemporary pastoral and cultural demands without hesitation.
It is symptomatic that this document is principally inspired by preconciliar sources, in particular from the magisterium of Pope Pius XII, whereas the Decree PO has maintained the more ancient patristic tradition of the Church as a constant point of reference, in addition to Lumen gentium (LG 28).

II. The Education of the Clergy

1.  In the sector on the formation of priests, the Code (can. 232-263) has substantially translated the directives of the Decree OT into juridical norms. To tell the truth, one might have thought that the Code would have developed a more sober collection of norms, opening a larger space for the insertion of more concrete elements pertaining to the various social and cultural national situations in the “Sacerdotali rationes,” which the conferences of bishops are to promulgate (can. 242). However, post factum, that is, after the promulgation of the Code, the only concrete question still possible is that of knowing in what measure the conferences of bishops will succeed in making use of the few real openings that remain, without having to have recourse to the introduction of elements that are heterogeneous to the system.
The dependence of can. 232-264 on OT is so strict as to be evident even on the terminological level. As in the conciliar document, the category that is unilaterally dominant in these canons is that of “sacerdos.” 3 This is a precise index of the underlying educational perspective with which the problem of the formation of the clergy has been undertaken. The unilateral use of the noun “sacerdos” contrasts with the fact that in all the other documents of the Council, as well as in the other canons of the Code concerning the ministerial priesthood, the term “sacerdos” constantly alternates with “presbyter.

2. This terminological index is confirmed by the tendency in the norms contained in can. 232-264 to give a privileged place to the priestly “status vitae,” in contrast with the apostolic function as such, better manifested by the noun “presbyter.” It is true that within the doctrine of the three offices of Christ, the priestly office represents by itself the theological element which includes the other two: regal and prophetic. However, it is equally true that the category “presbyter,” by its nature, transcends the problem of three (or more) offices in which the ministers come to participate through the sacrament of Orders, without thus giving rise to the misunderstanding, rooted perhaps more in practice than in doctrine, that it would be possible to reduce the ecclesial function of the priest to a cultic one. 4
This impression can be verified by an analysis of some of the canons, and in particular that of can. 245, in connection with 255, can. 258 and can. 276 § 2 n. 1-2.
The tenor of the programmatic declaration of the Decree OT 4, 1 with regard to the scope of education in Major Seminaries has an unequivocal clarity: “In them (the seminaries) the whole training of students ought to provide for the development of true shepherds of souls after the model of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was Teacher, Priest, and Shepherd.” The corresponding norm of can. 245 § 1 is instead much blander, since it transfers the accent from the objective formation for pastoral ministry to the subjective formation of the spiritual attitude for exercising it in a fruitful way.
By means of spiritual formation and through the acquisition of the capacity to reconcile “human with supernatural goods,” the students are to be made capable of fruitfully exercising their proper pastoral and missionary ministry, given that these apostolic activities, exercised in faith and charity, contribute to the sanctification of priests. The fruitfulness of the apostolate is seen first of all in view of subjective sanctification. Evidently the subjective and objective aspects are interdependent, but the accent put on the former rather than the latter is a clear indication of the fact that the Codeconfronts the problem first of all with the preoccupation of forming seminarians to live well their proper “status vitae,” which is clerical, rather than their apostolic function. Thus it remains tied to a perspective closer to that of Trent than to that of the ecclesiology that emerges from Vatican II.
It is also possible to observe a shift in perspective from function to “status” in the area of the orientation of studies. Whereas OT 21 stipulates that seminarians will have to learn to act “in the art of the apostolate” with their own responsibility and in collaboration with others already during the time of the year devoted to studies, without neglecting the period of vacation (“feriarum quoque tempore”), can. 258 inverts the values, putting the accent on the period of vacation (“studiorum curriculum decurrente, praesertim vero feriarum tempore, praxi pastorali initientur”), as if the initiation to the apostolate as such were a less constitutive element than the others with regard to formation, so as to be able to be preferably moved to free time.
A final indication of this orientation indicated above can be found also in can. 276 § 2. The Decree PO 13, 1 affirms in an unmistakable way that the exercise of the three offices, “docendi, sanctificandi et regendi,” that is, the global exercise of the presbyteral function, constitutes the primary and specific source of sanctification of priests. 5 In consequence, it puts the accent on the intrinsic truth (“sincere”) with which priests are to carry out their pastoral functions (“munera”). According to the same document, this truth is realized by the fact that the priest, in the act of preaching to others, directs the word also to himself (13, 2). In the celebration of the Eucharist, offered for the Church, the priest also offers the sacrifice of his own life (13, 3), and in carrying out the function of “presiding over the community,” he practices asceticism by renouncing the pursuit of his own personal interests (13, 4).
Can. 276 § 2 proceeds instead to a double substitution of terms, which would appear to be without significance only at a superficial glance. For the adverb “sincere” it substitutes “fideliter,” and for the noun “munera” it substitutes “officia,” a term which in this context cannot be a synonym of ecclesiastical office – because it would be reductive – but rather of duty. This double correction confers a different significance to the text of the canon with respect to that of the conciliar document. It makes the sanctification of the priest depend on moral fidelity in the practice of his duties of state (“officia”) more than on authenticity (“sincere”) in the exercise of the presbyteral functions as such.
The consequence of this inversion of tendency is felt in § 2 n. 2 of the same canon, where Scripture and the Eucharist (“duplici mensa Scripturae et Eucharistiae”) unilaterally assume the characteristic of being more subjective practices of piety than objective actions of the Church for the sanctification of the whole People of God. The subjective aspect evidently cannot be excluded and the conciliar document itself takes it into account (PO 18), but only after having insisted in an unmistakable way (n. 13) on the fact that the priest sanctifies himself first of all by realizing his pastoral mission with sincerity.
This objective aspect, even if falsified in its true significance by can. 276 § 2, emerges nevertheless, although timidly, in can. 245 § 1 already cited: “… (alumni) discentes ministerium expletum semper in fide viva et in caritate ad propriam sanctificationem conferre.” Nevertheless, thus stated in obliquo, this fundamental principle for the understanding of the spirituality and identity of the diocesan clergy is deprived of its programmatic force.

III. The Institution of the Presbyterium

1. In the area of reflection on the synodal nature of the Church, 6 Vatican II, working a little Copernican revolution, has rediscovered the institution of the presbyterium. This is undoubtedly an ecclesiological and juridical reality that is fundamental for an understanding of the constitutional structure of the particular Church and of the universal Church herself.
It is symptomatic that a work that is so representative from the theological point of view, such as the Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, was not able to define the presbyterium at the opening of Vatican II, except as an architectural space of a church destined for the clergy in the celebration of the liturgy 7.
In effect, the idea of the presbyterium, very much alive in the first millennium, had progressively weakened to the point of disappearing. 8 It was taken over in a certain sense by the institution of the cathedral chapter, which has guaranteed the survival of the synodal consciousness in the area of the particular Church, although with inadequate juridical instruments. 9

2. The recovery of the presbyterium by the Council, however, did not occur without uncertainties and imbalances. The Council did not succeed in delineating with sufficient precision the various ecclesiological elements of the relationship between bishops and priests, which also determine the presbyterium, leaving as a result a fluctuating terminology. This has permitted the formation of three different models of the presbyterium. 10
The idea that priests in their totality are the cooperators of the order of bishops, as found in LG 28, 2 and in other conciliar texts, 11 has permitted an authoritative commentator of the council, such as Grillmeier, to hold that, parallel with the college of bishops, there exists a presbyteral college in the universal Church, and that this double reality forms one single presbyterium. 12 The “Textus emendatus” of the “De Ecclesia” of July 3, 1964, which the author still claims as an interpretative point of reference for his commentary on LG 28, does not speak of a single presbyterium including bishops and priests, but rather of a single presbyterium formed of all priests of the Church. 13 The modifications brought to the “Textus emendatus” apparently were not sufficient to eliminate all possibility of confusion.
When the Council speaks of bishops and priests in the plural to affirm that the latter are the collaborators of the order of bishops, this is not intended to address the problem of the presbyterium, but rather to emphasize the responsibility and solicitude that all priests – analogously to bishops – should feel for the universal Church, as well as for their particular Church.
In the Decree PO 5, 1, the Council requires the constitution of a council of priests who represent the presbyterium. 14 In this text, the presbyterium appears as a community of priests existing and working in the particular Church with a different function from that of the diocesan bishop. The corporate conception of the presbyterium, similar to that which underlies the institution of the cathedral chapter, clearly comes out also in the Decree CD 11, 1, which defines the diocese as a portion of the People of God entrusted to the pastoral care of the bishop “cum cooperatione presbyterii.” Other similar formulas, technically improper, recur in the Constitution on the Liturgy in n. 41, 2 (SC): “Episcopus suo presbyterio et ministris circumdatus” and in the Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church in n. 19, 3 (AG): “Episcopi… una cum suo quisque presbyterio.”
LG 28 uses the term “Presbyterium” only once, but in a way so as not to leave doubts on the nature of the institution. It affirms, in fact, that “Presbyteri… unum presbyterium cum suo Episcopo constituunt.” This is the conciliar text most central to the problem, both by reason of its definitory “cursus,” which gathers the ontological structure of the institution without adding other elements, such as the purpose of the presbyterium, and also because it is contained in the document in which the Council has developed the fundamental elements of its ecclesiology.
As a result, the presbyterium is not formed globally by all priests considered as a priestly community of the universal Church in service of the college of bishops, nor by priests in so far as they are a diocesan corporation placed in an extrinsic position with respect to the bishop, but rather by priests together with the bishop as their head.
This same concept of the presbyterium recurs also in the Decrees PO 8, 1; 15 inCD 28, 1, where the bishop is qualified, finally, following the model of the family, as the father of his priests; 16 and in AG 19, 3. 17
One must therefore conclude, with the great majority of theologians, 18 that the “locus theologicus” of the presbyterium is not the universal Church but the particular Church.

3. Despite the fact of its having rediscovered the institution of the presbyterium as a fundamental constitutional element of the particular Church, Vatican II was not concerned to seek the theological reason for its existence. In fact, the existence of the presbyterium cannot be deduced from the simple fact that there exists a relationship of hierarchical communion between the priests and the bishop. 19Furthermore, a relationship of hierarchical communion runs also between the priests of the universal Church and the college of bishops. 20
Clearly there is a functional and practical reason for the existence of the presbyterium. Vatican II, in fact, does not hesitate to assert that priests are necessary collaborators of the bishop. 21 This necessary quality, however, does not appear sufficiently well founded, on the basis of the observation that the bishop, by himself, is not able to carry out all the pastoral activity that belongs to his mission, even if this practical inadequacy becomes ever more evident. In any case, if it is a type of necessity that is purely rational and functional, it would follow that the ministry of the bishop is incomplete in itself, since he does not possess all the necessary means to realize it by himself.
Besides this functional motivation, there must thus exist a more profound reason on the theological order. If it is true, in fact, that an institution is determined in its existence also by the purpose which is proper to it, the specific problem then is that of determining with precision the nature of this purpose. Since the presbyterium is located in the heart of the particular Church – in whose center there stands the diocesan bishop – in order to determine the constitutional structure itself of the diocese, it can be held a priori that the reason for the existence of this synodal reality cannot be of a purely rational and practical order, but must belong to the order of Revelation and faith.
The particular Church is the concrete place in which the universal Church realizes herself, whose synodal (or collegial) structure is born precisely from the fact that the universal Church not only realizes herself in the particular Church, but also is constituted by the particular Churches. 22 It would be unthinkable that the universal Church could realize herself in the particular Church according to the synodal dimension that is proper to her, if the particular Church did not in her turn possess a synodal character, but were structured in a monistic way. In this case it would be necessary to admit that in the very moment in which the universal Church is “incarnated” in the particular Church, becoming immanent, it would cease to exist as a synodal reality, becoming dispossessed of her own structure.
In order to be able to receive the universal Church and permit her realization, the particular Church must be able to offer a structure that is not heterogeneous with respect to the synodal structure of the universal Church. 23
Evidently the synodal structure of the particular Church can only be analogical with respect to that of the universal Church. If it were identical it would mean that the particular Church would have the same constitutional structure as that of the universal Church; it would be a universal Church in its turn and the process would go on ad infinitum. In reality, the particular Church is not realized in others and from other ecclesial realities as is the universal Church. Neither the local eucharistic community nor the juridically more structured and stable community of the parish are realities from which the particular Church is constituted. Neither the one nor the other are necessary ecclesiological entities. They differ from the concelebration of the Eucharist presided over by the bishop only for practical reasons, since the bishop cannot reach all the members of the faithful of his diocese, as perhaps could have occurred in the ancient Church, before the rural parishes were constituted. 24
The analogy between the two synodal realities is imposed by the fact that the relationship existing within the presbyterium between the bishop and the priests is not equal from the sacramental and jurisdictional perspective to that which exists in the college between the Pope and the bishops. It is not identical from the sacramental perspective because all the members of the college of bishops – in contrast with the members of the presbyterium who are not bishops 25 – are invested with the fullness of the sacrament of Orders. It is not the same from the jurisdictional point of view because bishops, in contrast to priests, are in possession of all the powers necessary to guide their people toward salvation, in virtue of their ministry itself. 26 The primacy of the Pope consists in the fact of being able to reserve some competencies to himself, subtracting them from bishops, for the sake of the unity of the Church. The bishop in the presbyterium, on the other hand, enjoys jurisdictional powers that the priests do not have in virtue of their ministry and the sacrament of Orders.
Thus it is evident that the primary ontological reason for the existence of the presbyterium is of an ecclesiological nature. It could be affirmed that as the responsibility for the universal Church is entrusted to the college of bishops with the Pope as head, so the responsibility of the particular Church is not entrusted personally only to the bishop but synodally to the entire presbyterium as such. This occurs, however, in a way that is only analogical, since the bishop emerges as head of the priests in a stronger position than the Pope with respect to the other members of the college, given that the sacramental and jurisdictional presuppositions are different in the two types of relationship.
4. As in other sectors of its norms, the Codehas not made the effort to reformulate the doctrinal indications given by Vatican II on the presbyterium in an organic synthesis, but has limited itself to taking up the contents in a pragmatic way, assuming their incongruities.
In effect, not only is there no concern to give an explicit ecclesiological justification for the existence of the presbyterium – an operation that was not accomplished by the Council, either – but in the seven canons in which the institution of the presbyterium occurs, many of the terminological and conceptual uncertainties of the Council itself are allowed to emerge.
The principal text of the Council, that of LG 28, 2, which defines the presbyterium as the diocesan reality formed by the bishop and the priests, was not utilized in either of the two central canons of the Code: in can. 369 where the presbyterium is numbered among the fundamental elements of the constitution of the diocese, and in can. 495 § 1 where the obligatory constitution of the presbyteral council is stipulated.
Nevertheless, the idea that the presbyterium is a single reality to which the diocesan bishop and the priests belong, comes out in two marginal canons, even if not in a completely conclusive way. In can. 713 § 3, in fact, clerics who are members of a secular institute are exhorted to give their witness of apostolic charity “praesertim in presbyterio.” Although it allows the diocesan character of the presbyterium to appear, this formula does not give a precise indication as to whether the bishop is a member of it, or if it includes only the priests, as the cathedral chapter includes only the canons. Also in can. 400 § 2 a terminological problem arises, although it should be recognized that its formulation could make allusion to the presbyterium conceived as a unitary reality, to which both bishop and priests belong. Here it is stipulated that the bishop can have himself be represented in his visit “ad limina,” by a priest “sui presbyterii.” The same formula could also be used, however, to designate a presbyterium conceived as an autonomous reality, of which the bishop would not be a member.
Leaving aside these two canons (713 § 3 and 400 § 2), all the formulations of the other five canons turn out to be imprecise, since they transmit a dualistic image of the institution, as if it were a corporation of priests who work in a way that is extrinsic with respect to the bishop. This is particularly evident in the two central canons already cited above (369 and 495 § 1). In can. 369, in fact, the diocese is described as a “populi Dei portio, quae Episcopo cum cooperatione presbyterii pascenda concreditur.” A more exact formulation would have been “cum cooperatione sacerdotum sui presbyterii.” In can. 495 § 1, on the other hand, it is affirmed that the presbyteral council is a body “presbyterium repraesentans.”
The verb “to represent” has two meanings: one that is theological and another that is sociological. In the theological sense only the bishop represents the presbyterium, since this type of representation is based on the possession of the sacrament of Orders. This explains why only the bishop, in virtue of the sacrament of Orders (and not the presbyterium as such) can represent the particular Church within the college of bishops. The presbyteral council, on the contrary, in that it is a corporative entity, has representative force only in a sociological sense. It follows that the verb “repraesentare” of can. 495 § 1 has only sociological value, with the same meaning as in can. 499, which fixes the criteria for the choice of members of the presbyteral council. In reality, it does not represent the presbyterium taken in its totality (with the bishop and the priests), but only the presbyters belonging to the diocesan presbyterium. The more correct formula could thus have been “sacerdotes presbyterii repraesentans.”
In the other three canons the problem is analogous. According to can. 245 § 2, the students of the seminary are to be prepared “ad fraternam unionem cum diocesano presbyterio.” Since the same paragraph affirmed in the preceding phrase that the seminarians are to be prepared to adhere to their bishop “tamquam fidi cooperatores”, it would have been more exact in the subsequent phrase to use the formula “ad fraternam unionem cum sacerdotibus diocesani presbyterii.” In can. 529 § 2 the pastor is recommended to cooperate “cum Episcopo et sacerdotibus eiusdem presbyterii.” Also in can. 757, in which it is stipulated that the task of deacons is to serve the Church in the exercise of the ministry of the Word, the formula “in communione cum Episcopo eiusque presbyterio” appears dualistic like those used in the two preceding canons.

5. The equivocation according to which there would exist a presbyterium at the level of the universal Church finds no foundation in the Code, since the texts of the Council in which it is generically affirmed that the priests are the cooperators of the episcopal order are not utilized. Can. 257 § 1, on the other hand, takes up the underlying theological idea of the responsibility of all towards the universal Church, specifying its content. In fact, it stipulates that the seminarians are to be educated for a solicitude not only with regard to the particular Church in which they are incardinated, but also with regard to the universal Church, so as to be willing to move to other Churches which might have need of their ministry.

6. Beyond the problems posed by the formulations examined up to this point, which, however, do not have a solely technical and juridical character, the picture of the identity of the priest delineated in the Codeis unmistakable. It is defined not only on the basis of the sacrament of Orders and from the apostolic mission with which he is personally invested, but also from the relationship of dependence and structural collaboration by which he is tied to his own bishop by virtue of the sacrament and mission itself. Can. 245 defines, in fact, priests as “fidi cooperatores” of the bishop, and can. 384 defines them as “adiutores et consiliarios” which the bishop is bound to listen to (“audiat”).
Among the various texts in which the Council emphasized this dependence of priests in collaboration with the bishop, 27 there is one, however, in which the priests are defined as “necessarii adiutores et consiliarii” of the bishop (PO 7, 1), which the Codecould have made use of (for example, in can. 384). This is clearly a text with a dense theological significance, since it contains “in nuce” the ecclesiological justification of the existence of the presbyterium. In this text, the Decree PO presents the opportunity to be heard, which the bishops are to give to their priests, as depending not so much on a moral and juridical obligation, as if it were imposed on them in virtue of the law or even perhaps in the name of the principle of communion, but as depending on an ontological fact, which moreover is the foundation of the communio itself.
According to PO 5, 1, the very identity of the bishops is determined by the fact of necessarily having some priests as collaborators. The opportunity to be heard that the bishop must give to his priests derives both from the nature of the ministry of the latter, as well as from the nature of the ministry itself of the bishop.
This necessary dynamic of reciprocity, which it would have been important to bring out in all its programmatic force also in the Code, appears indirectly, however, in can. 495 § 1, in virtue of the fact that it makes the constitution of the diocesan presbyteral council obligatory. The reason for the obligatory character of the institution of the presbyteral council lies in the necessary character of the ministry of priests with respect to that of the diocesan bishop.
The fundamental reason for this active and passive interdependence of presbyters with regard to the bishop and of the bishop with regard to his priests, lies in the theology expressed by Vatican II with regard to the common – although distinct – sacramental participation of the presbyters and bishop in the same priesthood of Christ, and with regard to the participation of presbyters in the ministry itself of the bishop.
The Council defined the nature of the different sacramental participation in the priesthood of Christ only from the formal point of view. It affirmed, on the one hand, that the bishop is invested with the fullness of the sacrament of Orders (LG21, 2), and on the other hand, that the presbyter participates in a “subordinate” grade (PO 2, 2), not having the “summit” of the same sacrament (LG 28, 1). Since the consecratory power of the presbyter and the bishop, with respect to the Eucharist, is identical, the difference in the grade of Holy Orders seems to be only quantitative and not qualitative. The Council has, however, avoided entering into the material point of view with regard to the question, refusing to push its analysis on to the problem of contents. On the contrary, it has expressly wished to leave the discussion open on those theological problems which have constantly been doctrinally debated, such as the question as to whether presbyters can consecrate other presbyters, or whether they cannot confer also the episcopal grade of Orders. However, the work of the Council has determined that the participation of the presbyter in the sacrament of Orders cannot be understood as a transmission on the part of the bishop of a portion of his own sacrament. The source of the sacrament of the presbyterate is not the bishop, but Christ, who works in the sacrament, making an instrumental use of the sign. 28
The participation of priests in the ministry of the bishop seems, on the other hand, to imply a further element with regard to the sacramental one. The traditional doctrine of which the Council makes use in this context identifies this further element with the jurisdictional element. The participation in the ministry of the bishop on the part of the priest would not be of a purely sacramental order, but also jurisdictional, and it is realized through the missio canonica. 29 Just what ecclesiological significance should be attributed to the missio canonica remains, however, an open question for theological discussion. 30
7. The unity existing on a sacramental and ministerial level between the bishop and the priests, which is structured as a “communio hierarchica,” also has specific implications for the relationship that exists between the priests of the presbyterium. The Council, as we have seen, speaks several times of the unity that exists between the priests of the entire universal Church and identifies the foundation of this in their common participation in the sacrament of Holy Orders (PO 3-4; 8, 1-2; 12, 3; 15, 2).
The fact, however, of being members of the same presbyterium confers a still greater and more concrete significance on this unity, since membership in the presbyterium derives from the participation of the presbyters in the ministry itself of the bishop. This permits one to affirm that all priests of the presbyterium participate “in solidum” – although according to a non-technical usage of the term – not only in the pastoral ministry of the bishop, but consequently also in the global task of the presbyterium itself, of which the bishop is head.
All of the texts of the Codeconcerning the presbyterium, already cited above, convey this idea, expressed in more explicit terms by can. 275 § 1, which enumerates as one of the first obligations of clerics that of being united between themselves in the bond of fraternity, of prayer and of reciprocal collaboration, since all work for one sole end: the building up of the Body of Christ.

IV. Various Institutions which Converge to Reinforce the Presbyterium

Besides this general doctrine on the presbyterium, the Codetakes up from the Council – turning them into binding juridical norms – many other institutions and elements (even if not all) which in a more or less direct way converge to render the institution itself of the presbyterium more organic as a central element of the constitution of the particular Church.
1. The first of these elements, which tends to enhance the unity of the priests within the presbyterium and thus to strengthen the institution itself, is that of common life. Vatican II does not consider this to be an indispensable element of the clerical state, 31 but the Codeturns out to be perhaps still less rigorous than the Council itself in this matter, although it returns to this subject several times.
This can be seen above all in the context of the norms concerning the formation of the clergy in the major seminaries. Carrying out an indication of the Decree OT11, 2, in which common life is considered as the goal towards which all the discipline of the institution should tend, 32 can. 245 § 2 – contrary to the misunderstandings born in many seminaries especially before the Council – conceives the discipline of the seminary only with regard to common life, through which the priests are to be prepared to live fraternal unity within the presbyterium.33
Another parallel norm is that of can. 280 in which clerics are strongly (“valde”) recommended to practice a “certain” common life. 34 Clearly, since more detailed indications are lacking in the Code, common life must be interpreted and understood in its practical realization according to the indications given by PO 8, 3, which does not necessarily make it coincide with the fact of living under the same roof, and admits different modalities and degrees of realization. 35
In a more specific way, can. 550 § 2 stipulates that the ordinary is to make sure that common life among the pastors and parochial vicars is initiated, in so far as possible. However, the principle of common life is not imposed in a peremptory way in this context either. In fact, the Codeconsiders the parochial pastoral responsibilities of the priests to prevail over the idea of common life. This priority emerges clearly in two norms. The first is that of can. 533 § 1 in which the obligation of the pastor to reside in the parochial house appears to prevail over the possibility of living in common with other priests. The second is that of can. 550 § 1 in which the obligation of the parochial vicars to reside in the parish is made to prevail over the possibility of living in common with other priests outside of the territory of the parish. In both cases the Codeadmits that the principle of residence can be broken only with the consent of the bishop.
2. A second element, traditionally connected with common life, to which POreturns twice, making explicit reference to the Acts of the Apostles and to the practice of the primitive Church, is that of the communion of goods. Whereas the formulation of n. 8, 3 of the Decree PO is categorical: “Presbyteri… colant… communionem bonorum,” in n. 17, 4 it is recommended only as a way to voluntarily embrace poverty.
The Code, in contrast, is surprisingly silent on this subject. Making reference to all priests, can. 282 § 2 limits itself to taking up summarily the indications of CD 28, 3 and of PO 17, 3, with regard to the use of goods acquired on the occasion of the exercise of the pastoral ministry; whereas can. 286 simply emphasizes the principle, affirmed in the same context by PO, of the prohibition of commercial activity of priests. Moreover, the rigor of the conciliar text itself is attenuated with the clause according to which commercial activity (“mercatura”) could be practiced with the permission of the competent authority .
3. Almost as if to counterbalance this less rigorous attitude of the Code with respect to the Council in that which concerns the use of goods, can. 1274 § 1 – contrary to the Decree PO 21, 1 – has made obligatory the constitution of the common diocesan fund for the support of the clergy, in cases in which it wouldn’t be possible to provide in any other way. For that which regards public assistance benefits for the clergy, and the use of the common fund for the benefit of other persons who work in the service of the diocese, § 2 and § 3 of the same canon synthetically translate the indications given by PO 21, 1 into juridical norms.
4. Another institution which it is necessary to keep in mind in the analysis of the relationship between priests and the presbyterium is that of associations.
The general context of associative law is valid for all the faithful, whether laity, clerics or members of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life. The general legislative basis is given by the Codein can. 215, and the normative articulation is carried out in can. 298-329; the specific law for clerics is given in can. 278. Whereas from § 1 it follows that clerics can associate also on the level of the universal Church, § 2 – in which the specific finality of clerical associations is further specified – states that importance should be given above all to those associations which tend to encourage a greater union of the clerics among themselves and with their bishop. From this it can be concluded that the Codegives a privileged position – although discretely – to the formation of associations within the presbyterium.
5. To complete this panorama, some other institutions must not be neglected which are of capital importance for the constitutional structure of the Church and the administration of the diocese, whose relevance for the global picture of the relationship of priests to the presbyterium is unmistakable.
First of all, there is the principle of territoriality that the Codeexcludes from the theological definition or description, both of the particular Church and the diocese (can. 368-369 and 374 § 1), and of the parish (can. 515 § 1 and 518). It is not possible here to dwell on the importance of this courageous transformation given by the Codeto the traditional doctrine. Nevertheless, keeping in mind the fact that the Codehas definitively fixed the existence of personal prelatures (can. 294-297), whose purpose is to group priests on a personal basis, thus permitting the formation of a personal presbyterium whenever the prelate has the episcopal dignity, one must note that the fact of having deprived the principle of territoriality of any theological significance contributes in a radical way to dismantle in the clergy any claim to enjoy an autonomy in fact and in principle with regard to the bishop. This is true above all for pastors, who have always found the most effective theoretical basis for their pastoral autonomy in an excessive theological appraisal of the territorial principle, articulated especially in the institution of so-called parochial rights.
6. Working along the same lines, there is the abolition of the system of benefices, at least on the level of common law (can. 1272), and the resulting suppression of the institution of irremovability (can. 252), already postulated respectively by PO20, 2 and by CD 31, 3.
The benefice system, profoundly rooted in the concrete conception of the culture of the Germanic peoples (unlike the abstract Roman mentality), has greatly contributed to break up the diocese in many little parochial entities and benefices, guaranteeing for the clergy indispensable material conditions for their economic self-sufficiency, a presupposition for their juridical and pastoral autonomy. Even in the case in which the beneficial institution as such is not suppressed by the conferences of bishops, but simply transformed, the fact of removing the clergy from the regime of benefices as a kind of external or private source of economic support and putting them under the public law regime of the new diocesan fund provided for by can. 1274, will have the consequence of helping priests to have a greater awareness of the total solidarity which ties them to one another and with the bishop.
The abolition of the beneficial regime turns out to be connected, at least in fact, with the suppression of the rights of presentation, of nomination, of popular election, as well as of the concursus (competitive examination), determined by the Decree CD 28, 1 and Eccl. Sanct. I, 18. It is on this basis that can. 523 is to be interpreted, which establishes a clear juridical presumption in favor of the free collation of parochial offices on the part of the diocesan bishop.
7. The positive consequences with regard to the formation of a more global sense of the unity of the presbyterium stemming from the abolition of the institution of irremovability requested by CD 31, 3 and confirmed by Eccl. Sanct. I, 20§ 1-2, and received by can. 522, are easily foreseen. In connection with them – besides the norms regarding the retirement of pastors for reasons of age, regulated by can. 538 § 3 along the lines of CD 31, 4 and Eccl. Sanct., 20 § 3 – there are also the new norms of the Code for the removal and transfer of pastors in can. 1740-1752, already indicated by CD 31 and Eccl. Sanct., 20 § 1.
8. All of these new elements clearly have a connection with the new regulation of the institution of incardination of can. 265-272 indicated by PO 10, 2 and by Eccl. Sanct. I, art. 3. The greater mobility given to the clergy, to which they must be already prepared by means of their seminary education (can. 257), contributes to the creation of a different picture of the priest from that expressed by the 1917 Code. On the one hand, it emphasizes the responsibility of all priests towards the universal Church, to the point of allowing them to determine also their own field of work, without remaining definitively attached to their own pastoral activity in a particular Church. On the other hand, it teaches that the priest remains structurally determined in his apostolic mission by his constant reference to the bishop.
9. In the context of this metamorphosis of the identity of the diocesan clergy, two final institutions must be mentioned: the possibility of conferring one or more parishes to several priests “in solidum” (can. 517 § 1), and that of diocesan consultors (can. 502). The former tends to realize on the parochial level a structure which reflects the model of the presbyterium in miniature. In fact, although it remains true that the institution of joint responsibility is applicable in all its juridical rigor from the technical perspective only in the case stipulated in can. 517 § 1, it is also true that in a broad and analogical sense it offers a category for understanding the nature of the responsibility – diversified but still collective – of all the members of the presbyterium of a particular Church.
The presbyterium is without doubt the institution treated by the Code which has also further determined, in a more or less explicit way, the reduction of the power of the ancient institution of the cathedral chapter in the government of the diocese. This reduction will occur to the degree that the individual conferences of bishops should decide to transfer, on the basis of can. 502 § 3, the non-liturgical competencies of the chapter to the college of consultors, whose members derive from the presbyteral council.

V. Conclusions

Reviewing these institutions of the Code, some of which are new, such as common life, the diocesan fund, priestly associations, age limits for retirement, parishes entrusted “in solidum”, as well as the fact of the abolition of the system of benefices; or others which have been largely restructured, such as the territorial principle, irremovability, removal from office and transfer of pastors, incardination, the college of consultors and the cathedral chapter, it can be seen that they have been introduced into the Code, and submitted to a profound transformation, in order to guarantee a greater convergence of all priests towards the fundamental institution of the presbyterium. Since the presbyterium centrally determines the entire constitutional structure of the particular Church, all the other institutions acquire a value of functional subordination in relation to it.
The particular Church cannot be imagined without its natural head, the bishop. The diocesan bishop, in his turn, is not conceivable without the priests who form the synodal reality of the presbyterium with him. All the relationships which exist between the bishop and his priests and all the institutions in which these relationships are juridically articulated make sense in the measure in which they allow the priority of the presbyterium to clearly emerge and enhance its internal cohesion.
It is not possible to dissolve the personal responsibility of the bishop into the collective responsibility of all priests, even if the presbyterium is invested with a synodal responsibility. The fundamental diversity between collective and synodal responsibility is determined by the fact that in the latter case the power of making decisions is not entrusted to a majority, but to a person who is invested with it on a sacramental basis. In the college of bishops, on the contrary, it lies in the fact that the majority must also include the Pope.
The ontological bond of a sacramental and jurisdictional nature existing between all the members of the presbyterium, permits one to affirm that the pastoral mission in a particular Church is entrusted to the presbyterium as such on the basis of differentiated personal, but synodally reciprocal responsibility. Hence, from the ecclesiological perspective, this responsibility is not less stringent than any form of collective responsibility. This means, among many other things, that pastoral coordination does not find its justification in the rational principle of efficiency, but in the ecclesiological structure of the presbyterium itself, and hence it is imposed as a necessity of a theological order.

* First published: “Sacerdozio e presbiterio nel CIC,” in: SerMig 19 (1983) 354-372.

1   Positive reactions with regard to OT were not lacking, also from an ecumenical perspective. However, from a distance of time, the Decree has more clearly revealed its limitations. For a first evaluation and for an analysis of the historical development of the document, cf. J. Neuner, “Vatikan Konzil,” III, in LThK (Freiburg/Basel/Vienna 1967), pp. 310-313.

2  For an historical analysis of the process of formation of the Decree and of attempts to have the conciliar discussion converge on the more essential points of the matter, cf. L. Lécuyer, “Vatikan Konzil,” III, in LThK (Freiburg/Basel/Vienna 1968), 128-140.

3  It is worth while emphasizing that in the Decree PO the relationship of frequency of the noun “presbyter” with respect to “sacerdos,” is about 100 to 20.

4  The principal reason cited in the conciliar discussions for the use of the term “presbyter” instead of “sacerdos” in the Decree PO, was of a practical rather than a doctrinal nature. The concern was to clarify unequivocally that the Council intended to concern itself in this document not with the priesthood in general – since the bishop is also a priest – but with the lower grade of priesthood, that is of the presbyteral order; cf. Lécuyer, loc. cit., p. 134.

5   “Sanctitatem propria ratione consequentur Presbyteri munera sua sincere et indefesse in Spiritu Christi exercentes.”

6   The term “synodal” is less compromised from the juridical perspective than the term “collegial,” because it can include, without equivocation, the entire apostolic activity of the bishops and not only that activity which terminates in a properly collegial act; cf. W. Aymans, “Das Synodale Element in der Kirchenverfassung” (Munich 1970).

7   Freiburg/Basel/Vienna 1963, vol. VIII, p. 725.

8   Cf., for example, J. Pascher, “Bischof und Presbyterium,” Concilium 1 (1965), 83-85; G. d’Ercole, “Die Priesterkollegien in der Urkirche,” Concilium 2 (1966), 487-492.

9   On the history of the cathedral chapters, cf. P. Torquiebiau, “Chapitres de Chanoines,” in: DDC, III, pp. 530-545.

10  On this question, cf. O. Saier, “Die hierarchische Struktur des Presbyteriums,” AfkKR 136 (1967), esp. 351-360.

11  For example, CD 28, 1: “Ordinis episcopalis providi cooperatores…”; PO 2, 2: “Ordinis episcopalis… cooperatores”.

12  “Vatikan Konzil,” I, in : LThK (Freiburg/Vienna 1963), 725.

13  Textus emendatus 28, al. 3: “Presbyteri, Ordinis Episcopalis providi cooperatores eiusque complementum et organum… unum presbyterium constituunt…”.

14  “…habeatur… coetus seu senatus sacerdotum, Presbyterium repraesentantium, qui Episcoporum in regimine dioeceseos suis consiliis efficaciter adiuvare possit.” This text, which finds a parallel in CD 27, 2, was applied from the legislative perspective by Eccl. Sanct., I, 15.

15  “Presbyteri per Ordinationem in Ordine presbyteratus constituti omnes inter se intima fraternitate sacramentali nectuntur; specialiter autem in dioecesi cuius servitio sub Episcopo proprio addicuntur unum Presbyterium efformant.”

16  :…quare (presbyteri) unum constituunt presbyterium, atque unam familiam, cuius pater est Episcopus.”

17  “Episcopi vero, una cum suo quisque presbyterio… cum universali Ecclesia sentiant atque vivant.”

18  Cf. for example, K. Rahner, Handbuch der Pastoraltheologie, I (Freiburg i. Br. 1964), pp. 179-185; K. Mörsdorf, “Die hierarchische Struktur der Kirchenverfassung,” Seminarium 18 (1966), 403-416; L. Weber, “Der Priesterrat,” Der Seelsorger 38 (1968), 105-118.

19  Cf. for example, PO 5, 1: “In omnibus autem Sacramentis conficiendis… Presbyteri diversis rationibus cum Episcopo hierarchice colliguntur.”

20  PO 7, 1: “Presbyteri omnes, una cum Episcopis, unum idemque sacerdotium et ministerium Christi ita participant, ut ipsa unitas consecrationis missionisque requirat hierarchicam eorum communionem cum Ordine Episcoporum…”

21  PO 7, 1: “Episcopi igitur, propter donum Spiritus Sancti quod Presbyteris in sacra Ordinatione datum est, illos habent ut necessarios adiutores et consiliarios in ministerio et munere docendi, sanctificandi et pascendi plebem Dei.”

22  The fundamental text of the Council on this point is that of LG 23, 1: “Episcopi autem singuli, visibile principium et fundamentum sunt unitatis in suis Ecclesiis particularibus, ad imaginem Ecclesiae universalis formatis, in quibus et ex quibus una et unica Ecclesia catholica exsistit.”

23  However, the discussion remains open with regard to the question of whether the universal and the particular denote the existence of two materially different ecclesial realities that penetrate one another – the universal Church that is realized in and from the particular Churches – or if they should be considered only as two necessary formal dimensions of the one Church of Christ.
24  Cf. in this regard the text of SC 41, 2: “Quare omnes vitam liturgicam dioceseos circa Episcopum, praesertim in ecclesia cathedrali, maximi faciant oportet: sibi persuasum habentes praecipuam manifestationem Ecclesiae haberi in plenaria et actuosa partecipatione totius plebis sanctae Dei in iisdem concelebrationibus liturgicis… cui praeest Episcopus a suo presbyterio et ministris circumdatus.”

25   Coadjutor and auxiliary bishops also belong to the presbyterium.

26  CD 8 a-b: This conciliar text has determined the passage from the Tridentine system of concession, on the basis of which it was held that the Pope transmitted proper powers to the bishops by delegation (e.g., with quinquennial faculties), to the system of reservation, in which the Pope, in view of a greater disciplinary unity, reserves competencies to himself which in themselves belong to diocesan bishops.

27  For example, LG 28, 2; CD 28, 1; OT 9, 1; PO 2,2; 4,1; 8, 1-2; 12, 1 and 3.

28  On this question cf. H. Müller, “De differentia inter Episcopatum et Presbyteratum iuxta doctrinam Concilii Vaticani Secundi,” PRMCL 59 (1970), 614-618.

29  Cf. LG 24, 2; NExP 2, 3; PO 7, 2.

30  The problem of the sacra potestas is a central problem in the constitution of the Church. Doctrinally, two different solutions have been proposed. According to the first, Orders and jurisdiction, although united between themselves, are two different powers each having their own distinct content. That of Orders is conferred with the sacrament, whereas that of jurisdiction is conferred with the missio canonica. According to the second solution, the power of jurisdiction is considered only as formal, as if it did not have a proper content of its own. All the power is conferred with the sacrament, but it remains under the control of the jurisdiction which can bind or loose – ad validitatem – the power of Orders that is sacramentally conferred. A third possibility would be that of considering Orders and jurisdiction simply as two formally distinct dimensions of the one potestas, which would act in its totality either according to the specific modality of the symbolic logic of the sacramental sign, or according to the modality of the logic of communication proper to the word. The validity or invalidity of sacramental and jurisdictional acts would be determined by the grade of ecclesial communion within which they are placed. On this question, cf. E. Corecco, “La ‘sacra potestas’ e i laici,” Studi parmensi 28 (1980), 3-36.

31  CD 30, 3: “ad eamdem vero animarum cura efficaciorem reddendam, vita communis sacerdotum, praesertim eidem paroeciae addictorum, enixe commendatur”; PO 8, 3: “Insuper, ut Presbyteri in vita spirituali et intellectuali colenda mutuum iuvamen inveniant, ut aptius in ministerio cooperari valeant utque a periculis solitudinis forte orientibus eripiantur, aliqua vita communis vel aliquod vitae consortium inter eos foveatur, quod tamen plures formas, iuxta diversas necessitates personales vel pastorales, induere potest, nempe coabitationem, ubi possibilis est, vel communem mensam, vel saltem frequentes ac periodicos conventus.”

32  “Vitae Seminarii disciplina aestimanda est non solum validum vitae communis caritatisque praesidium, sed totius institutionis necessaria pars ad sui dominium acquirendum, ad solidam maturitatem personae promovendam ceterasque animi dispositiones efformandas quae ordinatam et fructuosam Ecclesiae operositatem maxime iuvant.”

33  “… per vitam in seminario communem atque per amicitiae coniunctionisque necessitudinem cum aliis excultam praeparentur ad fraternam unionem cum dioecesano presbyterio, cuius in Ecclesiae servitio erunt consortes.”

34  The text of can. 280 is a synthesis of CD 30, 3, in which common life is recommended without any relativization (where, however, the “enixe” of the conciliar text is replaced with “valde”) and PO 28, 3, which recommends only some (“aliqua”) common life (the canon substitutes “quaedam” for “aliqua”).

35   Cf. note 31.