Gemma Animae (172-176): On the Holy Orders


In this section, Honorius explains the grades of ministries in the Catholic Church. In each section, he explains the etymology of their titles, identifies their direct precedents in the Old Testament, comments upon their rites of ordination, and explains their spiritual meaning. In his brief observations he seems to depend very closely on the Pontificale, from which he draws vocabulary, style, and usually the particular spiritual sense of each minister’s officium, and for this reason we have appended the relevant prayers of the Pontificale Romanum after the translation. It is worth observing here, perhaps even more than elsewhere, how closely Honorius cleaves to the ancient spiritual explanation of the rites given by the Church herself.

The reader should be alive to the ways in which tapping into the mystical sense makes the commentary not only a description of functions, but an ecclesiological treatise in its own right. The ecclesiastical hierarchy are a physical manifestation of the perfect sanctity of the Church, adorned with every virtue, bearing “the form of heavenly life”; the seven orders correspond to the seven-fold gift of the Holy Spirit, and thus express the perfection of the life of grace conferred upon the Church. The particular duty each minister performs is always joined to a spiritual quality, a level of holiness that corresponds with the dignity of their ministry. It is a true hierarchy, holy order.

Ch. 172

Concerning the Church, we have now said what God gave us: it remains for us to speak about the Church’s ministers. Now the Church took the use of priests and ministers from the Synagogue, whom Moses had established to minister in the tabernacle in obedience to God’s command (Exodus 26). Thereafter, David and Salomon, equally by the Lord’s command, arranged for cantors and Levites in the Temple, whom the Apostles imitated when they established ministers in the Christian religion (Acts 6).

[1] It is hard to stress how deeply Biblical typology is written into the Latin conception of the holy orders. With a casual glance at the ordination ceremonies in the Roman Pontifical, the reader will discover that the rite takes every opportunity to identify the sacred persons, functions, and objects of the Christian cult with their Old Testament precedents. The form of the sacred hierarchy is given in Scripture: Moses is the high priest, represented by the bishop, and the priests are the 70 ministers he elected to aid him, etc.

David (Getijdenboek)
Psalter, Koninklijke Bibliotheek (Source)

Ch. 173
On Christians

“Christians” take their name from “Christ,” and are divided into “laity,” “monks,” and “clerics.” “Laos” means people, whence we have “laity,” meaning the people. “Monas” means solitude; hence monks are those who live the solitary life.

Ch. 174
On Clerics
[Ancient priests]

Cleros means a choice (sors) or inheritance. Hence we have the word clerics, i.e. the ones chosen (sortiti) for the Lord’s inheritance. For they receive the tithe and sacrifice, which are called God’s inheritance because God has commanded them to be offered for God’s service. But the clergy take their name from a “choosing,” because the priests of in the law were chosen by lot (sorte); among the Gentiles, whoever had many children chose one for the priesthood, also by lot. Now all the ministers of the Church are called clerics. But they are arranged in seven grades, since they are consecrated by the seven-fold grace of the Holy Spirit [1]. They are the following: porters, lectors, exorcists, acolytes, subdeacons, deacons, presbyters.

[1] A fact explicitly mentioned in the Pontificale Romanum, in the prayer over candidates for the deaconate:

Emitte in eos, quaesumus Domine, Spiritum sanctum, quo in opus ministerii tui fideliter exequendi septiformis gratiae tuae munere roborentur.


Orders (Autun)
Sacramentary of Marmoutier for the use of d’Autun, France (West), ca. 845-850. (Autun, Bibliothèque municipale, ms 19bis, folio 1 verso ).


Ch. 175
On Porters

The men who were called janitors or doormen in the Synagogue are called porters in the Church. In the Law their duty was to open and close the Temple like Samuel, excluding alike from the House of God both Jews who were defiled and Gentiles who were unclean, i.e. uncircumcised. Now in the Church their duty is to lead the catechumens into the Church for Baptism and to receive the penitent who have been reconciled by the bishop at the door, leading them back into the House of God. When they are ordained, the bishop hands them the keys of the church, so that they may open the doors of the church to believers and close them to unbelievers, and also so that, in the Temple of God which is their bodies, they may open the doors to virtues, and close them to vices.

[1] Compare the Latin text with this one from the Roman Pontifical:

Suscepturi, filii charissimi, officium Ostiariorum, videte, quae in domo Dei agere debeatis, Ostiarium oportet percutere cymbalum, et campanam; aperire Ecclesiam, et sacrarium; et librum aperire ei, qui praedicat.  Providete igitur, ne per negligentiam vestram, illarum rerum, quae intra Ecclesiam sunt, aliquid depereat: certisque horis domum Dei aperiatis fidelibus; et semper claudatis infidelibus. Studete etiam, ut, sicut materialibus clavibus Ecclesiam visibilem aperitis, et clauditis, sic et invisibilem Dei domum, corda scilicet fidelium, dictis, et exemplis vestris claudatis diabolo, et aperiatis Deo: ut divina verba, quae audierint, corde retineant, et opere compleant, quod in vobis Dominus perficiat per misericordiam suam.

CAP. CLXXV. – De ostiariis

Qui in Synagoga ianitores vel aeditui dicebantur, in Ecclesia ostiarii nuncupantur. Illorum autem officium in lege erat, quod templum ut Samuel aperiebant et claudebant, et de Iudaeis pollutos, de gentibus autem immundos, id est incircumcisos de domo Dei excludebant. In Ecclesia autem hoc officium habent, ut catechumenos baptizandos in ecclesiam introducant, et poenitentes per episcopum reconciliatos in ostio accipiant, et in domum Dei reducant. Dum hi ordinantur, claves ecclesiae eis ab episcopo traduntur, ut videlicet credentibus ianuas ecclesiae aperiant incredulis claudant, et templum Dei quod ipsi sunt virtutibus aperiant, vitiis claudant.

Ch. 176
On Lectors
[Temple Cantors]

The men who were called cantors in the Temple are called lectores amongst us. The duty of the former was sing the hymns composed by David or the songs published by Salomon in the Temple, just as Asaph and Edith, and to shout for joy using organs and cymbals. In the church their duty is to recite the Divine Scripture and sing the Responsoria or Gradualia and Alleluia on their own before the people to the praise of God. When they are ordained, the bishop hands them a book, since they must fulfill by their works what they announce to the people from books. Now there is the praecentor who sings first; the succentor who follows him, the centor or cantor who sings along; the psalmista who pronounces the psalms; and the symmysta [1] or secretarius, which means one who knows what is secret, and he explains the mysteries of Christ [2].

[1] Du Cange explains: SYMMISTA, a Gr. συμμύστης, Sacrorum eorumdem particeps et collega. Utuntur S. Hieronymus, Sidonius, Apuleius, et alii. Decano et Symistis suis, apud Ekkehard. IV. de Cas. S. Galli cap. 16.

The word is also used in the famous Hodie Cantandus trope of the Introit of the Third Mass of Christmas, where the prophet Isaiah is called the “presagus et electus symmysta Dei.”

[2] Compare the Latin text with that of the Roman Pontifical:

Electi, filii charissimi, ut sitis Lectores in domo Dei nostri, officium vestrum agnoscite, et implete.  Potens est enim Deus, ut augeat vobis gratiam perfectionis aeternae. Lectorem siquidem oportet legere ea quae (vel ei qui) praedicat: et lectiones cantare; et benedicere panem, et omnes fructus novos.  Studete igitur verba Dei, videlicet Lectiones sacras, distincte et aperte, ad intelligentiam, et aedificationem fidelium absque omni mendacio falsitatis proferre; ne veritas divinarum Lectionum incuria vestra ad instructionem audientium corrumpatur.  Quod autem ore legitis, corde credatis, atque opere compleatis; quatenus auditores vestros, verbo pariter et exemplo vestro, docere possitis. Ideoque, dum legitis, in alto loco Ecclesiae stetis, ut ab omnibus audiamini, et videamini, figurantes positione corporali, vos in alto virtutum gradu debere conversari; quatenus cunctis, a quibus audimini, et videmini, caelestis vitae formam praebeatis; quod in vobis Deus impleat per gratiam suam.

Notice, in the underlined portion, the mystical reason given for preaching “from a high place.”

CAP. CLXXVI. – De lectoribus.

Qui in templo erant cantores, apud nos sunt lectores. Illorum officium erat hymnos a David compositos, vel cantica a Salomone edita in templo, ut Asaph et Idithum resonare, et organis vel cymbalis Deo iubilare. In ecclesia autem illorum est officium divinam Scripturam recitare, et Responsoria, vel Gradualia, et Alleluia singulariter coram populo ad laudem Dei cantare. (0598C) Dum hi ordinantur, liber eis, ab episcopo traditur, ut videlicet operibus impleant, quae populo de libris pronuntiant. Est autem praecentor, qui praecinit; succentor, qui cantum subsequitur, centor vel cantor, qui consonat; psalmista, qui psalmos pronuntiat; symmysta, id est secretarius vel secreti conscius, qui mysteria Christi explicat.

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