Christian Eschatology and Social Thought: A Historical Essay on the Social Implications of Some Selected Aspects in Christian Eschatology to A.D. 1500

By Ray C. Petry | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
The Ecclesiastical Community as Servant of the Eternal Kingdom in the Temporal World

2. The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy Patterned After the Celestial Hierarchy

THE EARLY AND MEDIEVAL CHURCH SOUGHT THROUGH THE CONCEPT of hierarchy to establish ecclesiastical equilibrium between the eternal kingdom and temporal society. The Church delineated among men a social ordering patterned after the heavenly world. Its functions in the human sphere recapitulated, approximately, the gradations from highest to lowest revealed by the celestial world.

Thus, in the course of serving the eternal kingdom in the temporal society, the Church developed its human hierarchy after the heavenly one. Even as the primal unity of heaven was thought to proceed from the Trinity, through the graded ranks of angelic choirs, and thence to man, so the ecclesiastical hierarchy was held to issue from the holy pontiff through archbishops, bishops, priests, deacons, and the minor orders, to the laity itself. Just as the life impulse of all community secured its derivation from the Godhead -- increasingly thought of in its triune oneness -- so it returned through all the intermediaries of the common life among men, upward through the angelic ranks, and back to the unity that sent it forth. All manyness comes from oneness; and to the oneness of this perfect unity in Trinity all manyness returns for its ultimate association. So argued the theologians of the Church.1

This thought, with all of its hierarchical implications, is a com-

____________________
1
See "Hierarchia" in the Elucidatio . . . Patrologiae Latinae, p. 40. Invaluable references are those of MPL 219:687 ff.; 218:1218 (XXXVI); De reg. prim., 1, 2, 3, 12; De Mon. 1, 15-16; O. Gierke, Political Theories of the Middle Age, translated by F. W. Maitland ( Cambridge, 1900), pp. 9 and 101-2.

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