Priesthood and Episcopacy in Early Church


What were the requirements for being ordained into the Priesthood and also being consecrated into the Episcopacy in the Ancient Church, and how did it develop (if so) over time?

Thanks in advance and God Bless.

This is just a summary…

It comes from the Old Testament, or more accurately, God decreed its institution in the OT from Abraham through to Moses who demonstrated the ‘HOW’ it passes on to what we have now. The ‘Laying On of hands’ upon one who is ‘ordained’ to be a priest to offer the sacrafices for the people of God.

The Levites were the priestly line, and through to Aaron and continued on towards the New Testament.

In the NT, Paul details the ‘Requirements’ for the kind of man to be ‘ordained’ and have the Hands laid upon him to become a priest, to care for the flock and offer the sacrafice of Mass.

The Mass, from antiquity, developed it’s form from the format practiced by the Apostolic era, through to what it is now. Form develops, but the ‘nature’ remains the same from then, now, to until the the Return of ‘the Last Bishop of Rome,’ as it were!


Thanks, but I meant the requirements before they could be ordained.

That is why I pointed to Paul.

He details what kind of man is to be chosen and considered into the priesthood and progress to bishopric responsibilities.


OP, I am not sure what you mean by requirements? Obviously the early church did not have seminaries like we have now, the preparation would have been more informal.

I rather like the way St. Ambrose was made a bishop. I think we need more bishops like that.

"……For a period of time in the early Church there was no settled terminology for these ordained officers or ministers. Paul spoke of “bishops and deacons” ( Philippians 1:1), though he also mentions other offices such as “apostles,” “prophets,” and “teachers” (1 Corinthians 12:29-30) . James spoke of “elders” (James 5:14). In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear many times of “elders,” also translated “presbyters” (e.g., Acts 11:30). Sometimes the designations “bishop” and “elder” were used interchangeably. By the second half of the first century a consistent terminology to describe these offices in the Church had become fairly fixed. In the letters of Ignatius it is clear that leadership in the Christian community is exercised by an order of “bishops, presbyters, and deacons” (*- Epistle to the Trallians *3:2, Polycarp Epistle to the Philippians6:1). Of these designations, “bishop,” from the Greek *episkopos, was applied to the highest officer in each local church. “Presbyter,” from the Greek presbyteros, meaning “elder,” and “deacon,” from the Greekdiakonos, *meaning “servant” or “minister,” were applied to lesser officers. Henceforth these were the the terms for these offices in an “institutional” or “hierarchical” Church.

The term “priest” (Greek* hierus*) was not often used at first for the Christian presbyter. This is explained by the need to distinguish the Christian priests from the Jewish priests who were still functioning up to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in the year 70. Thereafter the use of the word “priest” for those ordained in Christ became more and more common……"
From The Church of the Early Fathers

Also consider Authority of the Clergy in the Early Church

The Levitical Priesthood was a role that someone was born into. They were descendants of Aaron and in the tribe of Levi. Of course Christian priests do not trace their lineage to this line of Levitical priests. In the first 2-3 centuries the church was led by bishops/episkopos (overseer, supervisor, ruler) and elders/presbuteros (a mature man having seasoned judgment ). A hiereus (a priest, one who offers sacrifice to a god) wasn’t used in Christianity for a Christian leader until a few centuries later. Jesus is the high priest in Hebrews, but no person is assigned this role.

1 Timothy 3:

1Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[a] respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

8 In the same way, deacons** are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

11 In the same way, the women[c] are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

12 A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.**



Bump. Whoops, I forgot about the second part of my question of how the requirements developed overtime.

For example, what exactly did the Ancient Canons & Canons of the Middle Ages require from men before they entered the clergy? One thing I heard was knowing the entire Psalter by heart.


Can we ask why this question is important to you? It will help to know why, that way responders will… respond more and in a way more helpful to your needs.

Are you just curious?

It seems the more important issue is that of the existence of the priesthood and episcopacy as institutions willed by Christ.

It was just out of curiosity. The first part of my question was answered anyway. None of the posts have really touched on the second half:

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