I was wondering about the hierarchy of the Catholic church as compared to what I read in the New Testament? I read about elders/pastors that are to watch over the flock (or congregation) and I read about deacons. I was just wondering how the hierarchical system came about, with arch bishops and cardinals and a pope? Also, I wondered about 1 Peter 2:5,9 where Peter refers to all Christians as being members of a "royal priesthood". Would this make all Christians "priests" of God able " to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ", our high priest? Thank you for your time.

The New Testament talks about three offices of Divine Origin: Episcopos, Presbyter, and Deacon.  In the New Testament the terminology had not yet become fixed, thus the words Episcopos and Presbyter (Bishop/Elder---Priest) were used interchangeably.  The role of the Bishop is an overseer.  The Presbyters assist the bishop, as to the Deacon's but in different ways.  Presbyters share in the priestly ministry of the Bishop, whereas Deacons are ordained into the bishops work of charity.  

In any case the blueprint for the hierarchy is already present in the New Testament.  The bishops in the Catholic Church today are the successors to the Apostles.  

The pope is a bishop. "Pope" is simply a title that means "Father."  By definition the pope is the Bishop of Rome.  In virtue of the fact that he is the Bishop of Rome he is Pope.  In virtue of the fact that he is pope he is the successor of Peter the prince of the Apostles.  Rome took on prominence in the West because it was a patriarchal See--that is it was a See founded by or associated with an Apostle.  Rome was associated with Peter and Paul.  Rome was the only Patriarchal See in the West which is why it became prominent in the West.

In the East there were four Patriarchal sees: Jerusalem, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Antioch.  Constantinople had no association with an Apostle.  Constantinople was an honorary patriarchal see because it was the capital of the Empire.  This honor was granted to it by Rome.  For this reason also Constantinople became the "Rome of the East."  In the early Church the patriarchal sees operated on a principal of communion.  The pope would have been seen as the central to this communion.  The primacy of the pope in the Early Church did not take the form it does today due to the model the early Church operated out of.  The model of the early Church was not pyramidal but more like a wheel with the pope as the hub and the other patriarchs as the spokes.  Collegiality between the patriarchs was also the operative model.  Again, this is because the early Church did not think like we do today. Today we see the Church in terms of a pyramid with the pope at the top and the laity at the bottom.  However the early church did not think in those categories which is why the primacy of the pope did not take the form it does today.  Then, the pope was seen as a first among equals---among the patriarchs.  Vatican II tried to recapture this model in it's theology.  Because of Vatican I the power of the pope tended to become a tad exaggerated.  Vatican I answered the question about the popes jurisdiction in the Church, and his infallibility---but never defined the exact relationship between the bishops and the pope.  Vatican II tried to do this.  There is still much work to be done on this issue.  The issue has not been fully clarified.  

Every bishop is a successor of the Apostles and a Vicar of Christ.  The pope in his capacity as bishop is a successor to the Apostles and a Vicar of Christ.  In his capacity of pope he is also the Vicar for Peter the prince of the Apostles.  

Cardinals and Archbishop are not of Divine origin, they are of human origin.  A Cardinal is simply an honorary title given usually to a bishop. (Theoretically any person can be given this honor, but today it is usually reserved for bishops.) The honor a cardinal has is that they represent the pope wherever they are.  They outrank a bishop in terms of honor and privilege, but not jurisdiction. They are not the "Boss" of a bishop.

Archbishop is also not of Divine origin, but is or human origin.  An archbishop is simply a bishop who leads an archdiocese.  An archdiocese is so named because it is usually a diocese of political significance (such as New York) or a very large area. Again, this is a title of honor not jurisdiction.  An archbishop has jurisdiction only in his diocese.  He is not the "boss" of the bishops around him.  Archbishop's outrank bishops only in honor.  Cardinals likewise.  

While we are on the subject: the title Monsenior is a title bestowed on a priest.  This is a title of honor as well.  Those priest with the title outrank other priests in their diocese only in terms of honor.  They are not the boss of a priest.  

There is one Priesthood of Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ shares this Priesthood with his Body the Church in two distinct ways: the Priesthood of the Baptized and the Ministerial Priesthood.  In virtue of Baptism all Christians share in the Universal Priesthood of all believers.  This priesthood enables the Christian to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  This priesthood enables the Christian to bring Christ to the world and to be the light of Christ in the darkness that the world is in due to Sin.  The Priesthood of the Baptized or Universal Priesthood of all believers conforms the person to Christ as Son.  In other words--this priesthood is a sharing in the life of Christ as Son of the Father.  This is where the believer becomes as Paul says "Son's in the Son."

The Ministerial Priesthood conforms the person to Christ as head of the Body the Church.  Through this priesthood the person becomes a spiritual Father making present the Fatherhood of God in the Church. The role of the Ministerial Priest is the offering of the atonement sacrifice--that is the Sacrifice of Christ.  The person ordained to the Ministerial Priesthood feeds the people of God with the merits of redemption made present in the Sacraments.  The people in turn fed with the merits of Redemption bring these merits to the world.  The priesthood of the Baptized offers Sacrifice in the altar of the World.  Their vocation is in the world.  The Ministerial Priest offers sacrifice at the Altar of God.  Their vocation is in the Church.  The role of the Ministerial Priesthood is to feed and nourish the Priesthood of the Baptized.  


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Father Dave Bechtel


I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.


I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

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