(ἱεραρχία, from ἱερός, sacred, and ἄρχων, ruler), a term used to denote, in churches in which the whole ruling power is held by the priesthood, a sacred principality instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ 1, his Church, and consisting of orders of consecrated persons, with gradations of rank and power, who constitute exclusively the governing and ministering body in the Church. It implies the transmission, under what is called the Apostolical Succession, SEE SUCCESSION, of the authority to teach and govern given by Christ to his apostles; and thus the hierarchy, as a corporation, perpetuates itself. The hierarchy on earth is supposed to correspond with the hierarchy of "angels and archangels, and all the hosts" of heaven, with the Virgin Mary at their head. The Christian hierarchy, again, is supposed to correspond to the Jewish gradations of the priesthood. SEE CHURCH. The notion of a "continuity of plan running on from the Jewish hierarchical system into the Christian, i.e. the Romish spiritual monarchy, is an ideal analogy which has captivated" many an ardent imagination, from Cyprian down to Manning and Newman. For an exposure of its fallacy, see Taylor, Ancient Christianity (Lond. 1844, 2 vols. 8vo), 2, 403.
I. Roman Catholic. — According to the Roman Catholic theory, the hierarchy is divinely ordained, and was established in the Church by Christ, who gave the primacy of authority to Peter, and instituted, in subordination to the primacy, the three orders bishops, priests, and deacons. The primacy of Peter is perpetuated in the popes, from whom bishops hold their authority to govern their dioceses, and to ordain priests and deacons. This monarchico-hierarchical system grew up gradually in the Latin Church by a series of usurpations of power on the part of the bishops of Rome in succeeding centuries. In the Greek Church the hierarchy is oligarchical, not monarchical, no patriarch having supreme authority over all other prelates (see Schaff, in Brit. and Foreign Evangelical Review, Oct. 1865 and Jan. 1866). The Roman hierarchy is divided into the hierarchy of orders and the hierarchy of jurisdiction. The hierarchy of orders, again, includes the hierarchy by divine right (juris divini) and the hierarchy by ecclesiastical right (juris ecclesiastici).
(I.) Hierarchy of Orders. —
(1.) The hierarchy juris divini includes,
1. Bishops (sacerdotes primi ordinis, apices et principes omnium), who are successors of the apostles, and by whom alone, through ordination, the ministry of Christ is preserved among men. As to order, the bishops are only a fuller form of the order of priests, with governing and ordaining power superadded. Some Roman Catholics hold that bishops have their authority by divine right immediately, others (and these are now the majority) that they have it mediately through the pope. SEE EPISCOPACY.
2. Priests (presbyters), who receive from the bishop, by ordination, the power to administer the sacraments, to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, and to absolve penitents from their sins. The place in which they shall exercise these functions is not 'optional with themselves, but depends entirely upon the will of the bishop.
3. Deacons, who serve as helpers to bishops and priests in the administration of the sacraments, and in the pastoral care of the sick and poor.
(2.) The hierarchy of ecclesiastical right includes the minor orders of subdeacons, acolytes, exorcists, lictors, and doorkeepers, being all extensions of the diaconate downwards, so to speak.
(II.) Hierarchy of Jurisdiction. — This embraces the manifold "principalities and powers" which have been constituted in the Church in the course of her progress towards universal dominion. It includes archdeacons, archpresbyters, deans, vicars, inferior prelates, and cardinals. In the order of bishops, again, there are archbishops, metropolitans, exarchs, and patriarchs. The pope is at the head of all, the bearer of all the functions of every office, and the source of authority for each. SEE PAPAL SYSTEM. The Roman hierarchy is a vast politico-ecclesiastical corporation, with the pope at its head, claiming universal dominion over all men and over all governments. SEE CURIA ROMANA; SEE POPE. It is a great power, more important, as De Maistre, one of the greatest modern Roman writers remarks, than sound doctrine, inasmuch as it is "more indispensable to the preservation of the faith" (Lettres, 2, 285). This idea of a hierarchy with a universal dominion, and with an infallible head, constituting a visible principality on earth, and therefore necessarily using secular means of support, and "therefore also unavoidably offering the highest possible excitements to carnal ambition," is a magnificent one, considered merely as a human organization seeking power over men; but it is utterly out of harmony with Scripture, and with the character and claims of Christianity as a spiritual religion.
II. After the Reformation, the churches on the Continent of Europe relinquished the hierarchy, although it might have been retained with ease in Germany, Sweden, and Denmark, as numerous bishops became Protestants. The Church of England, however, retained it, and, in fact, she is distinguished from all other European Protestant churches by her claim to a regular hierarchy, in full apostolical succession. The High-Church notion of the hierarchy is stated by J. H. Blunt (Dictionary of Historical and Doctrinal Theology, s.v.) as follows: "Our Lord, the chief bishop, chose out twelve apostles and seventy disciples, corresponding to the twelve princes of tribes and the seventy elders, who, with Moses, governed God's ancient people, in order to show that his Church is the true spiritual Israel of God. St. Paul gave authority to Timothy and Titus to constitute bishops and deacons; St. Paul exercised visitation over the priests summoned to Ephesus; with Barnabas he ordained priests (Ac 14:23). St. Peter gave charge to priests and deacons (1Pe 5:1-5), and St. John received divine commission to exercise authority over the seven angels or bishops of the churches of Asia. In order to preserve the unity of the Church, Christendom was divided into dioceses, each with a number of priests and deacons under one head, the bishop, to regulate the faith and manners of the people, and to minister to them in God's name. The hierarchy embraces the power of jurisdiction and of order, considered as a principality. The hierarchy of order was established to sanctify the Body of Christ, and is composed of all persons in orders. The hierarchy of jurisdiction was established for the government of the faithful, and to promote their eternal holiness, and is composed of prelates. The hierarchy of order by ministration of the sacraments and preaching the Gospel aims at elevating and hallowing the spiritual life; the hierarchy of jurisdiction is for the promotion of exterior discipline. The hierarchy of order confers no jurisdiction, but simply power to perform ecclesiastical functions and administer sacraments, whereas the other hierarchy bestows jurisdiction, and consequently the right of making ordinances concerning the faith and ecclesiastical discipline, and to correct offenders. The principal duty of ministers of the Church is to lead men to the knowledge and worship of God, and the Church therefore requires laws and rules for the guidance of her ministers. The hierarchy of order, that of the ministration of the Word and sacraments, appertains to all clergy according to the measure of their power; the hierarchy of jurisdiction, which is, in fact, the hierarchy, being the chief power of the Church, pertains to prelates alone, but cannot exist without the other hierarchy, although the latter can be without jurisdiction, which it presupposes, and is its foundation. In the one the clerical character or order, i.e. the ecclesiastical office, only is regarded; in the other the degree, the rank' in jurisdiction of a prelate, is alone considered. Both have one origin and one object, and both flow from the clerical character; but order is of divine right, jurisdiction an ecclesiastical necessity, with its differences of chief bishops, prelacies, and ranks of ministers." The Protestant Episcopal Church retains the hierarchy of order, viz. bishops, priests, and deacons, together with the claim of apostolical succession. But the power of jurisdiction is divided with the laity, who are represented in the highest judicatory, the General Convention, and in this view that Church is not hierarchical. The Methodist Episcopal Church preserves the order of bishops, presbyters or elders, and deacons, but does not claim that her episcopacy retains the so-called apostolical succession; and she admits the laity to many of her offices, especially to those in which temporalities are concerned. The Presbyterian and Congregational churches of America are not hierarchical in government. SEE BISHOPS; SEE CHURCH; SEE EPISCOPACY; SEE LAITY; SEE ORDERS; SEE PAPAL SYSTEM; SEE PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH; SEE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH.