St. Robert Bellarmine (+1621AD)
CHAPTER XIV. THE FOURTEENTH PRECEPT, ON THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY ORDERS.
THE two Sacraments which follow, and which require a brief explanation, do not regard all
Christians: one relates to clerics, and the other (matrimony) to laics. We will not enter upon all the points which might be mentioned concerning holy Orders, but only speak of those matters which are necessary for a good life and a happy death.
The orders are seven in number, four minor orders and three greater; the highest of which, called the priesthood, is divided into two; those who are Bishops, are higher than others who are simple priests.
Before all the orders, the tonsure is first received, which is as it were the gate to all the rest; this properly makes men Clerics. And since what is required from Clerics, in order that they may lead a good and religious life, is with greater reason required of those who have received minor orders, and especially the priesthood or episcopacy; therefore I shall be content with considering those duties that relate to clerics.
Two points seem to require explanation; first, the ceremony by which clerics are made; secondly, the office they have to discharge in the church. The ceremony, as it is described in the Pontifical, consists in first cutting the hair of the head; by which rite is signified, the laying aside of all vain and superfluous desires, such as thoughts and desires of temporal goods, riches, honours, and pleasures, and others of the same nature: and at the same time, those whose hair is being cut, are required to repeat the fifth verse of the xv. Psalm: " The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup: it is Thou that will restore my inheritance to me." Then the Bishop orders a white surplice to be brought, which he puts on the cleric, saying these words of the Apostle to the Ephesians: “Put on the new man, who according to God, is created in justice and holiness of truth”(chap iv. 24.) There is no particular office appointed for a cleric: but it is customary for him to serve the priest at his private mass.
Let us now consider what degree of perfection is required in a cleric; and if so much is required of him, how much in an acolyte, subdeacon, deacon, priest, and Bishop! I am horrified to think, how many priests scarcely possess what is strictly required in a simple cleric. He is exhorted to cast away all idle thoughts and desires, which belong only to men of the world; that is, to men who are of the world, who are continually thinking of worldly things.
The good cleric is exhorted to seek for no other inheritance than God, that He alone " may be the portion of his inheritance ;" and the cleric may be truly said to be "the portion and inheritance" of God alone. O! how high is the clerical state which renounces the whole world that it may possess
God alone, and may in return be possessed by God alone! "This is the meaning of the words of the
Psalmist:“The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup.”
That is said to be "the portion of inheritance," which in the division of a property among relations, falls to the share of each one. Wherefore, the sense of the word is, not that the cleric wishes to take
God as a portion of his inheritance, and to make worldly riches another portion; but that from the bottom of his heart he desires to transfer to his good God, his whole inheritance, that is, whatever may belong to him in this world. Between cup and inheritance there seems to be this difference, that a cup relates to pleasures and delights, and inheritance to riches and honours.
"Wherefore, the general sense is this: O Lord, my God! from this time whatever riches, or pleasures,
or other temporal goods I can hope for in this world, I desire to possess all in Thee alone. Thou alone art sufficient for me. And since he cannot have an abundance of spiritual good things here on earth, therefore the cleric continues praying: “It is Thou that wilt restore my inheritance to me." What I have despised and rejected for Thee, or given to the poor, or forgiven my debtors, Thou wilt faithfully preserve for me, and restore to me in due season, not in corruptible gold, but in Thyself, who art the inexhaustible fountain of all good.
But lest any one should doubt my words, I will add two authorities much greater than mine without any exception, viz. St. Jerome and St. Bernard. St. Jerome, in his Epistle to Nepotianus, speaking on a clerical life, thus writes: "Let a cleric, who serves the Church of Christ, first explain his name; and its definition being known, he must endeavour to be what it is called: the Greek is Kλη_OS[Greek!],and in Latin Sors, which means inheritance: wherefore they are called clerics, either because they are chosen by the Lord, or because the Lord is their inheritance. But he who hath the Lord for his inheritance, ought so to conduct himself, that he may possess the Lord, and may be possessed by Him.
And he that possesses the Lord, and says with the prophet, " The Lord is my portion," can possess nothing out of God. But if he have any thing beside God, the Lord will not be his portion: as, for example, if he possess gold, or silver, or land, or various goods, the Lord his inheritance will not deign to be with these other portions. Thus St. Jerome; and if we read his whole epistle we shall find that great perfection is required in clerics.
St. Bernard comes next: he not only approves of the language of St. Jerome, but he sometimes uses his words, although he does not mention his name. Thus he speaks in his very long Sermon on the words of St. Peter, "Behold we have left all things," which occur in the Gospel of St. Matthew: "A cleric," he says, "who hath any part with the world, will have no inheritance in heaven: if he possess anything beside God, the Lord will not be his inheritance." And a little below he proceeds, declaring what a cleric can retain of ecclesiastical benefices: " Not to give the property of the poor to the poor, is the same as the crime of sacrilege: whatever ministers and dispensers not lords and possessors receive out of church property beyond mere food and clothing, is by a sacrilegious cruelty taken from the patrimony of the poor." Thus St. Bernard perfectly agrees with St. Jerome.
The ceremony of putting on the white surplice follows, with these words of the apostle: " Put on the new man, who according to God, is created in justice and holiness of truth." It is not sufficient forclerics, not to be in love with riches; their life must also be innocent and without stain, because they are dedicated to the ministry of the altar, on which is immolated the Lamb without spot. Now, to puton “the new man," means nothing else than to cast off the ways of the old Adam, who hath corruptedhis way, and to put on the new Adam, that is Christ, who being born of the Blessed Virgin, pointed out a new way "in justice and holiness of truth;" which means, not only in moral justice but also in the most perfect and supernatural holiness, such as Christ showed Himself to us, who according to St. Peter, " Did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth." (chap. ii. 1 Epist.) Would that many clerics were to be found now, who clothed in their white surplice, might show it in their life and manners.
In fine, another office of clerics is, to assist with devotion, reverence, and attention, at the Divine
Sacrifice, in which the Lamb of God is daily sacrificed. I know that there are many pious clerics to be found in the Church; but I not only know, but I have often seen many assisting at the altar of the
Lord, with roving eyes and improper demeanour, as if the service were a mean and common thing, and not most sacred and terrible! And perhaps the cleric is not so much to blame as the priest himself, who sometimes says mass in such a hurried manner and with so little devotion, as to seem not to be aware of what he is doing. Let such hear what St. Chrysostom says on this matter: " At that time angels surround the priest, and the whole heavenly powers sing aloud, and gather round the altar, in honour of Him who is immolated thereon." (Lib. vi. De Sacerdotio). This we may easily believe, when we consider the greatness of the Sacrifice. St. Gregory also thus speaks in the fourth book of his Dialogues:"Who amongst the faithful can hesitate in believing, that at the moment of
immolation when the priest pronounces the word, the heavens open and choirs of angels descend: that heavenly things are joined with earthly, visible with invisible?"
If these words be seriously pondered upon, both by priest and cleric attending upon him, how is it possible that they can act as they sometimes do?! what a sorrowful and deplorable spectacle would it be, could the eves of our soul be opened, to see a priest celebrating, surrounded on all sides with choirs of angels, who stand in wonder and tremble at what he is doing, and sing spiritual canticles in admiration; and yet to behold the priest in the midst, cold and stupidly inattentive to what he is about, not understanding what he says; and so he hurriedly offers the mass, neglects the ceremonies, and, in fact, seems not to know what he is doing! And in the mean time, the cleric looks here and there, or even keeps talking to someone! Thus is God mocked, thus are the most sacred things despised, thus is matter offered to heretics to scoff at. And since this cannot be denied, I admonish and exhort all ecclesiastics, that being dead to the world, they live for God alone; not desiring an abundance of riches, zealously preserving their innocence, and assisting at divine things with devotion, as they ought, and endeavouring to make others do the same. Thus will they gain great confidence with God, and at the same time fill the Church of Christ with the good odour of their virtues.
I shall be presenting this work at length, but in chapter-length installments each Sunday. If you simply can't wait for the next chapter, or want to read it all at once, you can find the full text here: http://goodcatholicbooks.org/pdf/bellarmine_art-of-dying-well.pdf