What virtues should bishops and deacons embody? And how might first-century instructions to the Church’s earliest ‘overseers’, recorded in 1 Timothy 3, speak down the centuries to their powerful and wealthy successors in episcopal office?
The election of Innocent II as pope in 1130 was controversial and he was ousted by a rival pope, Anacletus II. Upon his return to Rome, eight years later, Innocent II had to strengthen his position. The building campaign at Santa Maria in Trastevere, the title church of his rival before he seized the papal throne, was part of this project. In addition, Trastevere was the area of Rome in which Innocent II grew up.
The church of Santa Maria was completely rebuilt by the pope in the early 1140s. He had the new apse decorated with a spectacular mosaic depicting Christ and the Virgin seated on the same throne and surrounded by figures belonging to different ecclesiastical ranks. Innocent II himself appears holding the model of the basilica at the far left next to St Lawrence, a third-century Roman deacon, and St Callixtus I, a third-century pope who was associated with this very church.
The presence of St Lawrence in this group, though he did not have a direct link with Trastevere, is not surprising. He was a third-century Roman deacon whose dedication to the charitable work of his office earned him popularity among the faithful of Rome. As a deacon at the Lateran, his duty was to manage its material goods and distribute alms. When the city’s prefect requested, he hand over to him the treasures of the church, St Lawrence gave them to the needy as alms. He then presented the poor to the prefect and said, ‘These are the treasures of the Church’ (Ambrose of Milan, De officiis 2.140).
It was his embodiment of not being ‘greedy for gain’ (1 Timothy 3:8)—a virtue required of deacons—that made St Lawrence good company for Pope Innocent II, who had to prove himself to the locals.
Davidson, Ivor J. (ed.). 2002. Ambrose of Milan: De officiis, vol. 1/2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 347
Kinney, Dale. 2016. ‘The Image of a Building: Santa Maria in Trastevere’, California Italian Studies, 6.1, available: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3fp5z3gz [accessed 20 July 2020]
3 The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. 2Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. 4He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; 5for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church? 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil; 7moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
8 Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for gain; 9they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10And let them also be tested first; then if they prove themselves blameless let them serve as deacons. 11The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12Let deacons be the husband of one wife, and let them manage their children and their households well; 13for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, 15if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. 16Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated in the Spirit,
seen by angels,
preached among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.