That left only the urban artisan class, since in this period Christianity was a predominantly urban phenomenon. But the legislative rules were frequently ignored, as we can deduce from the repetition of similar laws and from the numerous exceptions. The rules which limited entry to the clergy also caused a scarcity of ministers, often lamented by bishops. To assess the candidate’s faith and conduct, genuine examinations scrutini were introduced so that, in the absence of specialized schools, skill in liturgical practice and familiarity with the bishop and other priests might be acquired.
The examination was aimed at ascertaining the qualities needed for belonging to the militia spiritalis, rather than at intellectual preparation. It was also insisted that the minor orders be received gradually interstitia and exercised for a certain period of time, longer or shorter, as preparation for the higher grades and as a test of conduct through each grade Leo Gt., Ep. 12, 4. These arrangements became more elaborate with Popes Siricius 384 399 and Zosimus 417 418. But many bishops were inadequately prepared Greg. Nys., Oratio 18,33: PG 35, 1027; Oratio 43,25: PG 36, 531.
Except in exceptional cases, the clergy were self-taught in religious matters, for which reason rules arose about their secular and religious education Counc. of Rome 465, can. 3; Brev. Hipp. can. 3, ed. Munier; Counc. of Seleucia-Ctesiphon 410, can. 26: Mansi 7, 1181; Statuta ecc. ant., ed. Munier, prologue, since frequently by God’s judgment and popular vote illiterates are elected; but at least, once ordained priest, they should take care to learn God’s law, so that they may teach it and not suffer the shame of learning from laymen Jerome, In Agg. 2, 11; Aug., Ep. 202, 3, 7; Novellae 6, 4 and 123, 12. During the 4th c., legislation, necessarily still variable, arose on the required age for receiving the various orders: 30 years for the priesthood Council of Neocaesarea 314319, can. 11, but we find even bishops who were ordained very young e.g., Antoninus of Fussala.