Saint Titus was a disciple and companion of Saint Paul, and became the first bishop of Crete, during which ministry he must have received this letter from his old teacher. We know from Paul’s letters that Titus, besides being his companion, ran various errands for him as a sort of apostolic legate and diplomat, notably to the Church in Corinth. But here, in the letter, Titus is addressed as the bishop of Crete, with instructions to establish a body of clergy.
“If I left thee behind me in Crete, it was to put all in order, where order is still needed. It is for thee to appoint presbyters, as I enjoined, in each city, always looking for a man who is beyond reproach, faithful to one wife; one whose children hold the faith, not accused of reckless living, not wanting in obedience. A bishop, after all, since he is the steward of God’s house, must needs be beyond reproach. He must not be an obstinate or quarrelsome man, one who drinks deep, or comes to blows, or is grasping over money. He must be hospitable, kindly, discreet, upright, unworldly and continent. He must hold firmly to the truths which have tradition for their warrant; able, therefore, to encourage sound doctrine, and to shew the wayward their error.”Titus, 1: 5-9
There was not much of a difference between priests and bishops in those days and Paul equates them here; differences were to emerge later on. Obviously the candidate for their common priesthood had to be prudent, well-behaved at all times, an example to the world, constant in faith and a lover of tradition, therefore able to correct those in error. Paul is particular upon the warpath against certain Jewish-Christian teachers, who were intent on judaising gentile Christians, by insisting on circumcision, dietary regulations, and Jewish purity laws etc. for them, against the teaching of the Apostles.
“Be strict, then, in taking them to task, so that they may be soundly established in the faith, instead of paying attention to these Jewish fables, these rules laid down for them by human teachers who will not look steadily at the truth. As if anything could be unclean for those who have clean hearts! But for these men, defiled as they are by want of faith, everything is unclean; defilement has entered their very thought, their very consciences.”Titus, 1: 13-15
Saint Paul’s advice for lay Catholics is similar to what we can be seen in the letters to Saint Timothy: they are to be sober, modest, temperate, teaching by good example. Titus himself is to be their model and example in virtuous living, so that the enemies of the Church may find no ammunition against them. The call to holiness, to good living, to justice, etc. is universal and not simply to the Jews; so the Church is to show example, and so increase her number through encouragement and correction.
“The grace of God, our Saviour, has dawned on all men alike, schooling us to forgo irreverent thoughts and worldly appetites, and to live, in this present world, a life of order, of justice, and of holiness. We were to look forward, blessed in our hope, to the day when there will be a new dawn of glory, the glory of the great God, the glory of our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave Himself for us, to ransom us from all our guilt, a people set apart for Himself, ambitious of noble deeds. Be this thy message, lending all authority to thy encouragement and thy reproof. Let no man lightly esteem thee.”Titus, 2: 11-15
The last third of the letter speaks of Christians being good citizens in the non-Christian society they find themselves in, joining honourable service, treating fellow-citizens with courtesy and with great patience, remembering that not long ago (before their conversions) they had partaken of the same errors. Through their good behaviour, the world would benefit. Those who refuse to be corrected are to be warned once, then twice and then completely ignored for it. That sounds pastoral enough for a bishop.
“Give a heretic one warning, then a second, and after that avoid his company; his is a perverse nature, thou mayest be sure, and his fault has been admitted on his own confession.”Titus, 3: 10-11