Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2


On Timothy, as Archbishop of Ephesus, and Primate of Asia, devolved the duty of ordaining bishops and the other members of the hierarchy, and giving them charge over the several cities. Hence, the Apostle instructs him in this chapter, in the duties and qualities of bishops and others. And although, in the early ages, the bishops were the first victims marked out for persecution, and the Episcopal office, was the threshold to martyrdom, still, it would seem that many, dazzled by the exalted elevation, inordinately ambitioned the Episcopal dignity, even in the very midst of persecution. The Apostle had also, with a prophetic insight into futurity, clearly foreseen, that the Episcopacy would, in future ages, be an object of ambition, with many wholly unfit for its tremendous responsibilities and onerous duties, “too heavy even for the shoulders of angels to bear”—“Onus quippe angelicis humeris formidandum.”—(Council of Trent, SS. vi. c. 1). Hence, he dwells, in this chapter, in describing at full length the exalted virtues which should adorn a bishop (1–7). The same applies, to a certain extent, to the subordinate members of the hierarchy, charged with the care of souls (8–14). He, next, instructs Timothy regarding the manner in which he should govern the Church, “the pillar and ground of truth” (15); and, finally, he points out the leading truth, the foundation of all the others, of which the Church is the divinely appointed guardian, viz., the great mystery of the Incarnation (16).


1. It is a saying deserving of the most undoubted belief, that if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desires a distinguished work, an honourable employment.

2. A bishop, then, should be a man of irreproachable life; he should not be the husband of more than one wife; or, he should not be twice married. He should be a man of sobriety, and consequently vigilant, prudent, of composed, regular deportment, chaste, a lover of hospitality to strangers, capable of teaching and instructing;

3. Not given to wine, not violent in temper, nor ready to strike, but meek and gentle; not quarrelsome, nor given to disputes and wrangling; not fond of money;

4. But he should be a person who governs well his own household, keeping his sons subject and obedient to him, in all propriety of moral conduct, particularly in the practice of chastity.

5. For, if he cannot properly manage his own family, how can it be expected that he will properly manage the Church of God, composed of so many families?

6. Not a man lately converted to the faith and baptized, lest, dazzled by the dignity to which he is raised, he should grow proud, and thus incur the same condemnation, which a similar sin of pride brought on the devil.

7. He ought, likewise, be a person to whose integrity even the infidels could bear testimony, lest otherwise he fall into disgrace, by being reproached with his own crimes, while correcting others, and so fall into the snare of the devil, by deserting the faith, in a fit of despair.

8. Deacons, in like manner, should be distinguished for a becoming propriety of morals, particularly in the matter of chastity, not deceitfully saying one thing and thinking another, or saying one thing to one party, and a different thing to another; not addicted to indulge over much in wine; not avaricious in the pursuit of filthy lucre.

9. Firmly adhering to and guarding Christian faith, or faith in the mysteries of the Christian religion, with a conscience pure and free from reproach.

10. And let these, too, be first proved and subjected to a rigorous trial for a long time, and after that, if no crime can be alleged against them, let them be admitted to the sacred ministry of serving.

11. The woman should, in like manner, be distinguished for moral propriety, particularly in the matter of chastity; not given to calumny or detraction, and faithful in all things.

12. The deacons should be husbands of one wife, and also should have their sons and their entire household well regulated.

13. Those who will have well served in the office of deacon will merit for themselves an honourable post, and earn for themselves much confidence and freedom of speech in preaching the faith of Christ Jesus.

14. These things I write to thee, hoping to come to thee shortly.

15. But should any unforeseen accident retard me longer than I expect, I write in order that thou mayest learn from the instructions given, how to conduct thyself in managing and regulating the affairs of the house of God, which is the Church of the living God—the pillar and the ground of truth.

16. And confessedly, beyond all question, the truth of which I speak, and which is the foundation of all Christian faith, is a great mystery, hidden during all past ages from the world—a truth calculated to beget feelings of piety towards God; and it is this—viz., that God—or the Word of God—of his own nature, invisible, has been manifested and rendered visible in human flesh, has been justified from the calumnies of the Jews and proved, what He declared himself to be—viz., the natural Son of God—by the stupendous miracles which He performed, and by the gifts of the Holy Ghost visibly poured forth upon Him; was seen by angels, who ministered to Him repeatedly, adoring Him at his Nativity, Resurrection, &c.; was preached to the Gentiles, who were before permitted to walk in their own ways; was believed in the world, after He was preached there; and was assumed gloriously into heaven.


1. “A faithful saying.” This is a form of expression usually employed by the Apostle, when about to announce any truth of great importance, such as the following regarding the Episcopacy. “He desireth a good work.” He says, “work,” to show that in the Episcopacy, we should regard its onerous duties and responsibilities more than the eminence or dignity it confers. It is a post of labour, of vigilant superintendence and inspection, as the word “bishop” (ἐπίσκοπος) implies, rather than of ease and indulgence. “Good,” which some interpret, honourable, since its end is to bring men to salvation; others, by “good,” understand, arduous, difficult. He does not say, that whosoever desires the office of bishop, has a good WISH. Because, according to St. Augustine (de Civitate Dei, lib. 19, c. 19), and St. Thomas (2da dæ quæst. 185)—no one could, without the greatest presumption, wish for the Episcopal office, unless in case of great and rare necessities of the Church, inasmuch as no one could, without presumption, look upon himself as possessing the superiority required for a bishop, or encounter the responsibilities which such exalted superiority, aided by God’s grace, is alone competent to master. In this verse, then, the Apostle wishes us to know that in aspiring to the Episcopal office, it is its heavy duties and responsibilities, rather than its honours or emoluments, we should regard.

2. The Apostle now proceeds to enumerate the virtuous qualities which should adorn a bishop. First, he should be “blameless,” free from all vice, and adorned with every virtue, like the great Bishop of bishops, whose representative he is, so that by being thus irreprehensible himself, he may enjoy greater liberty in discharging the duty of reprehending offenders. “The husband of one wife.” This does not regard simultaneous polygamy, since simultaneous polygamy, or the having of more than one wife at the same time, was never allowed among the Christians; it was abolished among the Jews, and prohibited by the law of Rome even among Pagans; there is no necessity, therefore, for the Apostle’s referring to it here. The same is clear, from a similar expression regarding widows (verse 9), “the wife of one husband,” which must evidently mean, successively. Hence, he prevents the consecration of a man, as bishop, who was twice married. Successive polygamy was thus early instituted as an irregularity, both for mystical causes and moral reasons, viz., the fears of incontinency.

This passage furnishes no argument against the Catholic discipline of clerical celibacy. The words merely convey a negative precept, or a prohibition to consecrate bigamists, as bishops; but, by no means, a precept for bishops to marry; otherwise, St. Paul himself would be the first to violate it (1 Cor. 7), so likewise would Timothy and Titus, who never married. It is not easy to define the precise period at which celibacy was made obligatory on those engaged in holy orders. The Apostles we are told by Tertullian (de Monogamia), were all unmarried, except St. Peter, And, that such was the general opinion in the third century, appears from the sect which then sprang up, called “Apostolici,” who renounced marriage, in order the more perfectly to imitate the Apostles. And that St. Peter left his wife, is clear from the words, “behold we have left all,” &c. We have no instance on record in which persons already in Holy Orders were permitted afterwards to marry, and retain the exercise of their respective orders. There is but one exception wherein the contrary was allowed. In the Council of Ancyra (A.D. 315), it was allowed only to deacons, who, at their ordination, protested their unwillingness to abstain from marriage. However, even this exception was abrogated and annulled by a subsequent disposition of the Church. As to the law of celibacy, in reference to those who, before their ordination, had been married, it is the opinion of many, that in the Western Church, the law making it obligatory, on those engaged in holy orders, to abstain from all intercourse with the wives they had married, before ordination, was derived from St. Peter.—(See Perrone “De Celibatu Ecclesiastico”). Tertullian gave up his wife when he was ordained a priest, and he evidently insinuates that such was the custom throughout the African Church.—“Se dicaverunt filios illius ævi, i.e., primitivi status Paradisi” (lib. de Exhortatione Castit). Aurelius, primate of Africa, expresses the same in the second Council of Carthage, quod Apostoli docuerunt … nos quoque custodiamus. Hence it was, that Pope Siricius (A.D. 385) threatens with punishment, such as act otherwise. Innocent 1., Epistola 2da, ad Vitricium (A.D. 404), and Leo the Great, Ep. 167, ad Rusticum, suppose the same law to exist. And several early Councils enjoin the same.

As for the Eastern Church, St. Jerome and St. Epiphanius assure us that in the East as well as in the West, the ancient discipline was the same in this respect.

QUERY.—How reconcile this with the account left by Socrates and Sozomen, both of whom assure us, that when in the Council of Nice, it was proposed to render the discipline of the Eastern Church conformable to that of the Western, by making it imperative on those engaged in holy orders to separate from their wives, Paphnutius, an Egyptian bishop, who himself led a chaste life, opposed it, as too arduous and difficult?

ANSWER.—In the first place, many persons question this relation of Socrates, &c. (Vide Cabassutium, Notitia Ecclesiastica, Canon 3, Con. Niceni.) They say that St. Jerome and St. Epiphanius, who lived before Socrates, and spent a great part of their lives in the East, had a better right to know the state of discipline prevailing there than Socrates had. And even admitting that Paphnutius did oppose such a law, and that the Council came into his way of thinking, it might be reconciled with the account of St. Jerome, in this way: the discipline of the Western Church, in regard to celibacy, prevailed in the great Churches of the East; a few obscure Churches, in which persons could not be found to receive holy orders, with the obligation of future continency might have departed from this discipline, and in consideration for these, the Council did not enact a law on the subject. Moreover, such a law, emanating from the Council of Nice, might be distorted by the heretics, who denounced marriage as in se evil, to favour their own views.

Be the truth or falsity of this narration of Socrates what it may, it is now certain that since the Council of Quinisextum or Trullanum (so called from being held in one of the halls of the imperial palace at Constantinople, called “Trullus,” A.D. 692), the discipline of the Greek Church permits deacons and priests to cohabit with the wives they had married, before ordination; the same indulgence was denied to bishops. This discipline, although introduced by an uncanonical synod, was afterwards permitted by the universal Church.

“Sober,” a very necessary quality for him who, in virtue of his office, and as his name implies, is supposed to be a vigilant superintendent.

“Prudent,” the Greek word means, one who keeps his passions under thorough control. “Of good behaviour,” i.e., of composed, regular deportment. On clerics in general, the Council of Trent enjoins, “nihil nisi grave, moderatum et religione plenum præ se ferant.”—(SS. 22, cap. 1). “Chaste,” for which there is no corresponding word in the Greek. It must be, then, that the Vulgate interpreter gave the word for “prudent,” σωφρονα, a twofold translation, to mean both “prudent” and “chaste.” “Given to hospitality.” “Hospitality”—a term so often abused and perverted to serve the worst purposes of reckless dissipation and dishonest extravagance—means, a love for strangers, whom a bishop should entertain at his house. Owing to the want of accommodation, and the spirit of persecution, many of the early converts were thrown on the charity of others, and the bishop, as their spiritual father, was therefore bound to be the first in attending to their wants. “A teacher.” Teaching and preaching the divine word is the first duty of a bishop.—(Council of Trent, SS. 24, c. 4).

3. “Not given to wine,” a disgraceful vice in a pastor of souls; the Apostle refers to it here, because the Asiatics were not remarkable for their habits of temperance. A Pastor of souls should be a model of self-denial to his flock, especially in the matter of abstinence from intoxicating drinks. “No striker,” not ready of hand to strike. In the Greek copies are to be found the words, μὴ αἰχροκερδῇ, not greedy of filthy lucre. These are not found, however, in the works of St. Chrysostom, nor in any of the old Greek or Latin versions; hence, it is probable they were introduced into the present Greek reading from a corresponding passage (chap 1:8) of Titus, in which they are lead; for the last words of this verse, in our version “not covetous,” express the same thing. “But modest,” merciful, mild. “Not quarrelsome,” not fond of disputes. “Not covetous,” fond of money, “the root of all evils”—(chapter 6 of this Epistle.)

4. From the proper management of his own household, is inferred the fitness of a bishop to govern the Church.

5. The inference is quite clear: if a man cannot manage his own domestic little Church, how can he manage the larger Church of God? If he cannot manage private affairs, how can he be trusted with public concerns?

6. “Not a neophyte.” The word νεόφυτον, literally means, one newly planted; in allusion to our being engrafted by baptism on the body of Christ, and incorporated with him.—(Romans, 6:5). Hence, the word “neophyte” means, one lately converted and baptized. Among the many reasons which might be adduced for the exclusion of such a person from the Episcopal office, the Apostle only adduces one, viz., lest, dazzled by his exalted position, and not sufficiently versed in the principles of faith, he would attribute all to his own merits, and thus incur the same judgment of condemnation which the devil, as yet “a neophyte” in heaven, had incurred for a similar sin of pride. As for cases of the ordination of neophytes, (v.g.) St. Ambrose, &c.; these were exceptive cases, in which the precept of the Apostle was dispensed with, because the reason lest, “being puffed up,” &c., was not apprehended; but, on the contrary, a great good was likely to result to the Church.

7. There are two reasons why he should be a man of good character, even among the Pagans: first, “lest he fall into reproach,” by being reproached with his former deeds of sin, and thus his authority necessarily diminished; and secondly, “fall into the snare of the devil,” i.e., into anger, hatred, impatience; or, finally, into despair, by being reproached with his former sins. Hence, the caution observed in all ages by the Church and by ecclesiastical superiors, in the advancement of men to Holy Orders, and to the awful responsibilities of the sacred ministry.—(See verse 22).

8. “Deacons in like manner should be chaste.” The Greek word for “chaste,” σεμνους, means grave, i.e., remarkable for moral propriety in general. The nature of his duties, viz., ministering at the altar, attending the bishop, dispensing the Holy Eucharist, &c., required in the deacon great purity of soul and body. “Not double-tongued,” a most disgraceful vice in a man, whose tongue should be the organ of the Holy Ghost. “Not given to much wine;” indulgence in wine weakens the faculties of the soul. “Not greedy of filthy lucre,” a virtue most necessary for deacons, to whom were given in charge the treasures of the Church.

The Apostle passes here at once from the bishops to the deacons. Hence, it is asked, what is become of the second order of the clergy? Some divines, and among the rest, St. Thomas and St. Anselm, say, that the term, Episcopus, or bishop includes “priests,” because priests, too, had to discharge the office of superintendent, or bishop, in a subordinate way. This opinion is rejected by others, who deny that Episcopus, or bishop, was ever used to designate a priest of the second order. They say, that in ecclesiastical usage, it always designated the chief pastor of a Church, and here the word “bishop” is used in the singular number (verse 1), while “deacons” is used (verse 8) in the plural, as if to show that, when speaking of bishops, the Apostle referred to that order of pastors, only one of whom can be found in any city; whereas, presbyteri or priests were many in one Church, “inducat presbyteros ecclesiæ.”—(James 5) St. Epiphanius says—the reason why he makes no mention of priests is, because in the primitive ages, the public functions of the Church were discharged by the bishop, assisted by the deacons: hence, the ministrations of priests in many instances were not required, because the number of the faithful in several cities was very small. Of this, the city of Neocesarea, of which St. Gregory Thaumaturgus was bishop, furnishes an example. It may be given as a general answer, that the very great similarity between the functions of the bishops and priests, (v.g.) conferring sacraments, consecrating the Eucharist, celebrating Mass, &c., made it quite unnecessary fur the Apostle to refer to the priests, as a distinct order; whereas, the functions of the deacons were quite distinct, under whom he includes the sub-deacons, on account of the similarity of functions also.—(See Philippians, 1:1; Titus, 1:5).

9. “The mystery of faith,” may also mean: the obscure truths of faith unknown to the common faithful. Some understand by it, the Eucharist, the distribution of which was one of the principal functions of the deacons; according to them the meaning is, distributing the adorable Eucharist—which in the very words or consecration is termed “mysterium fidci,”—with a clean conscience.

11. By “women,” some, with St. Chrysostom, understand deaconesses, or religious temales, who were deputed by the bishops to perform certain functions in the Church. (Vide Epistle to the Romans, 16) Others understand by them, the wives of the deacons, whose faults might be injurious to religion and chargeable on the deacons themselves, in the same way as the bishop would be charged with the irregularity of his own household (verse 5). Both meanings might be united, as, probably, the wives of the deacons might have discharged the functions of deaconesses.

“Not slanderers,” this is a vice to which women are very subject. “Faithful in all things;” if this regard deaconesses, it has reference to the dispensing of the contributions among persons of their own sex, to whom men had no access, according to the custom of the Greeks; if it regard the wives of the deacons, it means, that they should be faithful to the marriage contract (and not be adulteresses), and in the management of their domestic concerns.

12. This verse is explained in the same way as the second.

13. “A good degree,” according to some, means the office of presbyter or bishop; according to others, the highest grade of glory in eternal life, for their humble services in the functions of deacon. “Much confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.” i.e., much confidence in admonishing and correcting others relative to their Christian duties. This will be the result of their own personal irreprehensibility.

15. “The house of God,” in which, as in a well regulated household or family, all the members have their proper functions and duties, “which (house) is the Church of the living God,” to distinguish it from the churches, or rather temples of false gods, who, as such, i.e., as vested with divinity, have no existence whatever. This Church “is the pillar and ground of truth;” because, as the pillar supports the superstructure, so does the Church preserve and guard inviolate the deposit of faith left by God to the world. Hence, in matters of faith, the Church can never err, otherwise she could not be termed “the pillar of truth.” She must, therefore be gifted with infallibility, of which the promises of Christ are the guarantee; for, unless she were vested with this supernatural gift, she could never support or guard the faith against the insidious assaults of her manifold enemies; nor could she define points, the most minute and difficult, surpassing the human understanding (such as many points of faith are), with the accuracy required to furnish, in all cases, sufficient grounds or motives of credibility, for the firm assent of faith. How could it be expected that the learned and inquisitive portion of mankind would embrace truths incomprehensible to reason (as many of the truths of faith are), unless they had a sufficient security that the authority which propounded them was infallible in so doing? If the propounding authority were not infallible, the precise point of faith, which men would be called upon to believe unhesitatingly, might not really be revealed at all. The fact, therefore, of the Church being constituted “the pillar of truth,” proves her infallibility. Hence, it appears, that God would not have propounded sufficient motives of credibility for bringing all classes of men to faith, and consequently to salvation, unless he left some infallible means of arriving at the knowledge of his divine revelation. As, then, he has constituted the Church, “the pillar of truth,” of course, in reference to all classes of men, and all classes of revealed truth, he must have gifted her with infallibility—the only motive accommodated to the learned—otherwise, she might be the bulwark of error. This passage also proves the visibility of the Church; since the duties marked out for Timothy could not be performed in an invisible Church; and as the precepts given to Timothy apply to all bishops, at all times; hence, the Church must be, at all times, visible.

16. The truth, of which the Church is the guardian and depositary, has for its basis and foundation, the great fundamental article of Christ’s Incarnation, and the other mysteries of his life, death, and resurrection, which flow there from. These are the foundation of all Christian faith. The Apostle calls this Incarnation of the Son of God, a “great mystery,” because it was concealed during all past ages (Ephesians, 3), and was only revealed of late. It is a “mystery of godliness,” because calculated to promote the worship and glory of God. The Apostle refers to it particularly here, because it was a fundamental truth regarding which many of the early heretics had erred. The Greek reading of this verse runs thus: and, confessedly, it is a great mystery of piety, God has been manifested in the flesh, has been justified in the spirit, appeared to angels, &c. This reading is found in St. Chrysostom. The Vulgate reading of this verse is supported by the Syriac, Ethiopic, and Armenian versions, and by the Latin Fathers generally. The Greek reading more clearly and explicitly conveys the meaning which is commonly given to our Vulgate reading, as in the Paraphrase. The words are understood of the mystery of the Incarnation, and of the other mysteries of our blessed Saviour’s life and death, which flow from the Incarnation.

“Which was manifested in the flesh,” means, that God, as the Greek expressly has it, who was heretofore invisible, became visible in human flesh, which he assumed at his Incarnation. “Justified in the spirit;” “justified” has frequently, in the SS. Scriptures, the meaning given it here, viz., declared and proved to be just, &c.; “appeared unto angels,” who adored him at his Nativity, Resurrection, &c., and frequently ministered to him; he was seen by them now in a new form, and his multifarious wisdom, hitherto unknown, was now clearly seen by them.—Ephesians, 3

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com