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Priests and Bishops in Bede's Ecclesiology: the use of sacerdos in the Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum

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As the earliest historian of the Church in England, Bede's presentation of the English Church exercises a wide influence on the self-understanding of the Anglican Communion. This understanding, especially with respect to the historical nature of the episcopal and the presbyteral orders of ministry, is not always clear even in the best English translations, particularly in the rendering of the word sacerdos which can be correctly translated as both 'priest' and 'bishop'. Although Bede apparently supports a three-fold ordered ministry, a careful investigation of the use of sacerdos in his History suggests that he is willing to treat priests and bishops as colleagues and equals in certain contexts, including the sacramental ministry, the evangelistic mission, and the synodical counsels of the Church. This equality does not mean that Bede sees the two orders as essentially the same, rather that in their overlapping areas of responsibility the two orders, bishops and priests, are functionally equivalent.


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