I have been thinking about a comment made here some time ago, in connection with a post about the polity of the Church. “Polity” comes from the same Greek root as does “politics”: the root is polis, meaning the unique form in which Greek democracy expressed itself — the “city-state”, or the body of citizens living in a common environment (city) and organized as a self-governing state.
In the polis of ancient Greece, the people came together to make decisions and to elect representative officials in a periodic assembly. All citizens could come to that assembly, and in Athens in the fifth century before Christ, there were assemblies of as many as 43,000. And do you know what the Greek term for that assembly was? It was called an ekklesia — the same Greek word used by the early Church to describe its local assemblies of communicants in a given city, and from which comes our word “ecclesiastical”, meaning “of or having to do with a church.”
It was the function of the ekklesia, among other things, to decide whether to declare war, and to elect strategoi in charge of the armed forces of the polis — or what today we would call generals. During times of peace, the strategoi became politicians — Pericles was one oustanding example. Such leaders were elected to annual terms; the elections were usually held in the spring, at a regular ekklesia called for that purpose.
The concept of an elected leader or representative thus has a very long history, dating back for more than 2,500 years. A person so elected has always been regarded as receiving the trust of the people who do the electing. Or, said in legal terms, there is a fiduciary relationship between the person elected and those who elect that person. The representative has a duty, as a fiduciary (the word comes from the Latin fides, meaning “faith, or trust”), to act in the best interests of the electors.
As soon as a representative relationship is established, fiduciary duties arise, and are inescapable. The law is especially protective of the people for whom a fiduciary acts — they are called beneficiaries, or people by whom the fiduciary must do well in order to perform his or her responsibilities to them.
And so we come to the point of this little excursus into ancient Greek history: one cannot have an ekklesia without there being fiduciaries and beneficiaries. The former are elected or appointed to act in the best interest of the latter in doing the job for which they were elected.
I’m still waiting for the Gothard people to come up with a reasonable answer for this…