St. Jerome’s Idea of Bishops and Presbyters

One of the reasons why people join churches like Anglican, Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches (especially the last one) is to have a church which can have continuity with the "Fathers of the Church."  For Roman Catholics, one of the four "Doctors of the Church" (the most important of the Fathers) is St. Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible, which dominated Western Christianity for the next millennium.

Jerome’s opinion of the respective roles of bishops and presbyters (priests?) has always been at odds with the traditional concept of the threefold ministry of deacons, priests and bishops.  Since Anglican waters have been severely muddied by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ letter to Central Florida Bishop John Howe that the diocese is the basic unit in Anglicanism, it’s good to take a look at what this Doctor of the Church has to say about the matter.

Jerome’s position is simple: bishops and presbyters are one in the same office.  The reason why some bishops were elevated above others was to avoid schism.  He does make a clear distinction between deacons and presbyters, but no further.  He stated this position more than once in his long career, but I will cite below his position statement from his Letter 146, To Evangelus.

We read in Isaiah the words, “the fool will speak folly,” and I am told that some one has been mad enough to put deacons before presbyters, that is, before bishops. For when the apostle clearly teaches that presbyters are the same as bishops, must not a mere server of tables and of widows be insane to set himself up arrogantly over men through whose prayers the body and blood of Christ are produced? Do you ask for proof of what I say? Listen to this passage: “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi with the bishops and deacons.” Do you wish for another instance? In the Acts of the Apostles Paul thus speaks to the priests of a single church: “Take heed unto yourselves and to all the flock, in the which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops, to feed the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” And lest any should in a spirit of contention argue that there must then have been more bishops than one in a single church, there is the following passage which clearly proves a bishop and a presbyter to be the same. Writing to Titus the apostle says: “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain presbyters in every city, as I had appointed thee: if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless as the steward of God.” And to Timothy he says: “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” Peter also says in his first epistle: “The presbyters which are among you I exhort, who am your fellow-presbyter and a witness of the sufferings of Christ and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: feed the flock of Christ…taking the oversight thereof not by constraint but willingly, according unto God.” In the Greek the meaning is still plainer, for the word used is επισκοποῦντες , that is to say, overseeing, and this is the origin of the name overseer or bishop. But perhaps the testimony of these great men seems to you insufficient. If so, then listen to the blast of the gospel trumpet, that son of thunder, the disciple whom Jesus loved and who reclining on the Saviour’s breast drank in the waters of sound doctrine. One of his letters begins thus: “The presbyter unto the elect lady and her children whom I love in the truth;” and another thus: “The presbyter unto the well-beloved Gaius whom I love in the truth.” When subsequently one presbyter was chosen to preside over the rest, this was done to remedy schism and to prevent each individual from rending the church of Christ by drawing it to himself. For even at Alexandria from the time of Mark the Evangelist until the episcopates of Heraclas and Dionysius the presbyters always named as bishop one of their own number chosen by themselves and set in a more exalted position, just as an army elects a general, or as deacons appoint one of themselves whom they know to be diligent and call him archdeacon. For what function, excepting ordination, belongs to a bishop that does not also belong to a presbyter? It is not the case that there is one church at Rome and another in all the world beside. Gaul and Britain, Africa and Persia, India and the East worship one Christ and observe one rule of truth. If you ask for authority, the world outweighs its capital. Wherever there is a bishop, whether it be at Rome or at Engubium, whether it be at Constantinople or at Rhegium, whether it be at Alexandria or at Zoan, his dignity is one and his priesthood is one. Neither the command of wealth nor the lowliness of poverty makes him more a bishop or less a bishop. All alike are successors of the apostles.

But you will say, how comes it then that at Rome a presbyter is only ordained on the recommendation of a deacon? To which I reply as follows. Why do you bring forward a custom which exists in one city only? Why do you oppose to the laws of the Church a paltry exception which has given rise to arrogance and pride? The rarer anything is the more it is sought after. In India pennyroyal is more costly than pepper. Their fewness makes deacons persons of consequence while presbyters are less thought of owing to their great numbers. But even in the church of Rome the deacons stand while the presbyters seat themselves, although bad habits have by degrees so far crept in that I have seen a deacon, in the absence of the bishop, seat himself among the presbyters and at social gatherings give his blessing to them. Those who act thus must learn that they are wrong and must give heed to the apostles words: “it is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.” They must consider the reasons which led to the appointment of deacons at the beginning. They must read the Acts of the Apostles and bear in mind their true position. Of the names presbyter and bishop the first denotes age, the second rank. In writing both to Titus and to Timothy the apostle speaks of the ordination of bishops and of deacons, but says not a word of the ordination of presbyters; for the fact is that the word bishops includes presbyters also. Again when a man is promoted it is from a lower place to a higher. Either then a presbyter should be ordained a deacon, from the lesser office, that is, to the more important, to prove that a presbyter is inferior to a deacon; or if on the other hand it is the deacon that is ordained presbyter, this latter should recognize that, although he may be less highly paid than a deacon, he is superior to him in virtue of his priesthood. In fact as if to tell us that the traditions handed down by the apostles were taken by them from the old testament, bishops, presbyters and deacons occupy in the church the same positions as those which were occupied by Aaron, his sons, and the Levites in the temple.

Anglican parishes to ordain own clergy. And on the flip side…

A couple of days ago I took the Anglo-Catholics to task for their ambiguous position relative to Roman Catholicism and how they needed to decide whether they are in or out of the "true church."

It works both ways.  Now we see that that magnificent island which filled two continents with those who wanted or had to leave has a group of Anglican parishes which may start to ordain own clergy.  In an Anglican church, this is a definite faux pas.

There are really two issues here.  The first is that these parishes are proposing ordaining their clergy without permission of their superiors.  I’m not one for slavish, Gothardian subordination, but if you’re in a church with a hierarchy, deferring to that hierarchy in the matter of ministerial credentialing is a must.  You signed up for this system, you need to either stick with it or get out.  (You also seriously increase the risk of seriously unsuitable people going into the ministry with a lack of any kind of oversight.)

The second is the issue of the apostolic succession, which Anglican churches claim.  This is transmitted, for better or worse, though the bishops.  Without the bishops, that ceases to exist, and with it one of the advantages of the Anglican system.

British Anglican evangelicals need to do one of three things:

  1. Stick with the system they’re in,
  2. Become "nonconformist" and tough it out with the rest of us, or
  3. Do what the Americans are doing (I know it hurts, but it’ll be okay after a while) and seek help from those of like mind in the Anglican Communion.  But remember: the Africans are certainly evangelical, but they will not put up with the kind of insubordination contemplated against the Church of England.

There’s Catholicism and Then There’s…

The announcement that the Traditional Anglican Communion seeks full union with Rome isn’t really news. It’s been their objective for a long time.  The obvious dumb question here is, “why don’t they just swim the Tiber and get it over with?”

Part of the reason may lie in the fact that the Roman Catholic Church–wrongly, I believe–won’t accept Anglican ordinations.  I’ve always felt that this is punishment for having seceded from Catholicism as opposed to the Orthodox churches, which drifted apart.  But those who are priests and bishops in the TAC would doubtless like to continue their role at the altar once they’ve arrived at their desired destination.

A more noble reason is tied up with the TAC’s use of Anglican liturgies and practices.  Anglo-Catholicism is an attempt to make work what John Henry Newman could not: a synergy of Anglican and Catholic church life and practice.

Having been Episcopalian (pre-1979 prayer book) and Catholic at various times in my life, I always frame this issue in a simple way: the difference between my last service at Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church and my first Mass at St. Edward’s Catholic Church, both in Palm BeachI’ve dealt with this issue before but perhaps an illustration would make things clearer.

Bethesda wasn’t quite an Anglo-Catholic church then, but the undertow was there: very formal liturgy (and trained acolytes to help with it,) paid youth and adult choirs to make sure they got it right, and very long (~1 hr 30 min) Holy Communions with all of Cramner’s antique prose topped off by the 1928 Prayer Book’s prayer for the dead.  And everyone dressed up for the occasion.

St. Edward’s was a whole different story: modern liturgy (the Novus Ordo Missae had only been official for two years,) no music at many Masses, no intonations of “Gawd” from the altar like the Episcopalians did.  Without music and with the right celebrant, thirty-five minutes and the sacred mysteries were done, at which point all of the men stampeded out in their golf shirts, presumably having made a tee time at the Everglades Club or the Breakers.  (Catholics’ way of dressing down for Mass was way ahead of its time.)

Anglo-Catholicism always liked a “frillier” form of Christianity, presumably because it looked and felt good and because it helped to drive home the sacredness of what they were doing.  Roman Catholicism can certainly do the ceremonial when the occasion calls for it, but the efficacy of the sacraments is driven by the nature of the church, not because of how elaborately the sacred mysteries are celebrated.

Although I have serious reservations about Roman Catholicism and the role of the church it espouses, if you’re going to be Catholic, do it right.  Swim the Tiber.  Use a life jacket if you have to.  If you’re not, do that right too and be a part of a church whose main mission is that of Jesus Christ himself: “The Son of Man has come to ‘search for those who are lost’ and to save them.” (Luke 19:10)

More on Communion as the Main Order of Worship

In his reply to my last post, Robert Easter makes the following comment on the Holy Communion:

The earliest records show that weekly Communion was standard from the very first. John Wesley stressed it as still being important for the Methodists to take it weekly, and he took it several times during the week.

That line of thinking has led many churches–most notably Roman Catholicism but also Orthodox and Anglican churches–to make the Holy Communion the normal order of worship.  I discussed this relative to the Diocese of Sydney’s dilemma about lay administration of Communion in Move to empower laity raises church ire, where I argued against this practice.

A liturgical approach to this problem is probably the simplest way to resolve this.  Generally speaking, Eucharistic liturgies in Anglican and Catholic practice are divided into two parts: the ante-Communion (up to the Creed) and the Communion itself (after the Creed.)  It was common practice in the Patristic Church to dismiss the catechumens and other "beginners" at the end of Ante-Communion, as they were not full members of the church.

In a society where Christianity wasn’t completely out in the open and where the influence of mystery religions (which had steps of initiation, much like we see in Masonry) made this kind of exclusion more acceptable.  In an open society like ours, such a dismissal would be seen as snobbish.

This is why the Anglican solution of having Morning/Evening Prayer and the Holy Communion separate is more sensible.  It is noteworthy that both of these prayer services can be seen as "ante-Communions" in their own right, and are used this way from time to time.  Parishes can still offer Holy Communion early on Sunday, during the week and as a monthly (or whatever) observance for those who feel as Wesley did.

It’s interesting to note that, in the Episcopal Church, the monopoly of Communion (the "Holy" part is debatable) has been paralleled by the erosion of many other Anglican practices, i.e., Communion only available to the confirmed (they even allow the unbaptised to receive it in many places,) etc.  But then again many things have been eroding in TEC as of late.  Including the membership.

From Pentecost to Liturgy and Back

My friend Robert Easter at Sanctifusion has thrown me some very deep questions in the course of a discussion:

I was talking about you to a young man who is in the process of shifting form Church of God to Anglican.  Something about the ancient ties and the Nicene writers.  When we look at it, I think the sacramental and the pentecostal are the two strands of the Faith maybe the closest to each other, and to the basics of the Faith.  Read some stuff from the Desert Fathers, Cappadocians, and earlier scholars and they seem all to be more of either one than anything else around today, and too much of either to quite be the other!

…how do you divide the Pentecostal “essentials” of the inner-life / holiness focus from the sacramental & liturgical aspects that are just as original, and apparently seen by the Fathers as essential to holiness?  My own thinking is about the passive / consciousness-driven / spectator kind of thing we see nowadays on Sundays, and particularly the differences in the messages of a common cup and loaf against the “individual servings” of nasty Welch’s and unsalted cracker bits.  Which is more effective in conveying , “this is My Body” either in terms of proclaiming Jesus’ Resurrection, or our unity in Him?  In my own opinion, whether as a Pentecostal or an Anglican I can’t tell, but I would think that even passing around a slice of Wonderbread and  a bottle of Nehi Grape would be closer to the plan than what is “common” today…

When I consider the scope of this blog–which reaches from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism to Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism–I sometimes think of the old saying, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”  But I’ve got myself into this and now my bluff is called, so I guess I should try to address some of these questions:

  1. The thing that ties Pentecostal Christianity to the Patristic (Roman Empire) Era is a common belief in a God who takes an active role in people’s affairs, and who hears and answers prayer.  This can be extended to much of Christianity that came after the Empire fell.   The fact that the two forms of Christianity took different church polities, forms or worship and even concepts of church should not obscure this central fact.  Reformed Christianity and much of what followed it attempts to turn Christianity into a mechanistic business, where the place of the elect (and the lost) is clear cut and immutable and everything else doesn’t really matter.  This, to my mind, is not God’s plan.  I explore this relative to Anglicanism in my piece Charismatic Anglicans: the Missing Link.
  2. The occupational hazard of churches with a sacramental system is that they get to the place where they think that the sacraments themselves confer all that’s needed for the faithful in this life and the life to come, irrespective of the state of the faithful’s heart and life.  Roman Catholicism has wrestled with this and we see this in its worst form today in Affirming Catholicism.
  3. The weakness of the Holy Communion in Pentecostal churches today isn’t as much a product of the form we receive it in as much as the weak Eucharistic theology that Pentecostal churches inherited from the Baptists.  There is no scriptural justification in a purely symbolic Eucharist, and since non one else involved in Pentecost has the guts to admit this, I might as well.  The other end of the pole–transubstantiation–has its problems too, as its advocates tend to overplay its benefits, even in the face of unworthy reception.
  4. Contrary to what many say, it’s certainly possible to have truly Pentecostal worship in a liturgical context.  It has been done.  It can be done.
  5. I think the true measure of a great church is in the way it wins non-Christians to Christ and subsequently disciples them.  The change of a life is the central event in a Christian’s life.  Putting liturgical form–or anything else, like “social justice”–ahead of this is a mistake.  Once you keep your focus on changing lives and then maturing them in a discipleship process, your worship (liturgical or otherwise) and everything else will improve.  The reason I am in a Pentecostal church today is because it emphasises that and has the converts to prove it.  I always got the impression as an Episcopalian that total conversions were either in bad taste or impossible due to human factors, and Roman Catholicism’s penchant for gradualism is well known.

Frankly, one reason I produced my fiction is to explore these knotty issues.  In many ways they are more easily explored in a story line than a theological discussion.  And the one part that gets very deep into the clash of ecclesiastical cultures is online.

Vatican Representative Tones Down One True Church Statement. But Why?

Vatican Representative Tones Down One True Church Statement.

But why should he?

This issue is only complicated because we live in a world where statements of any kind which point out our differences are considered "politically incorrect."  The Catholic Church’s position on this matter is no different now than in 2000 when the current Pontiff, on behalf of John Paul II, wrote the encyclical Dominus Iesus, which I reviewed in We May Not Be a Church After All.  There I pointed out the following:

The term the New Testament uses for the church is ekklesia, the "called out ones."  Implicit in this is the idea that the church is made up of the people who have been called out, the "Body of Christ," if you please.  Such a concept is commonly expressed in Evangelical churches (it’s hard to figure out what the liberals are called out from) but is not unknown in Roman Catholicism.  The Second Vatican Council spent some time on it and of course Liberation Theology has used it as well.

But Roman Catholicism has another concept of church: an organization, whose leadership is the direct successor of the Apostles (and the head of this organization being the direct successor of Peter,) and which was established and empowered by Christ to dispense grace through the sacraments and truth through its authoritative teaching.  Such a church is in reality a mediator between man and God.  To back this up Roman Catholicism teaches that the establishment of such an authoritative institution was high on Christ’s agenda while He was here.  Roman Catholicism is not alone in this; the Orthodox churches have the same high view of themselves, the Anglican ones to a lesser extent.

The whole history of Protestantism has been an attempt to get past this concept of church and re-emphasise the unique meditative role of Christ Himself…We may not like the Vatican telling us we’re not a church, but if we look at their definition of church, then we can’t avoid the conclusion that, using their definition, we probably aren’t!

The one note of progress in this is that some in the Catholic church are coming around to the obvious: that some Protestant churches have a concept of themselves this is closer to that of Roman Catholicism than others:

"We meant that the EKD (Evangelical Church in Germany) or the Church of England, for example, have a different understanding of what the church is," the ecumenical leader stated.

Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith

The revelation of Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith needs to be understood in light of her emphasis on the Passion in Roman Catholic spirituality.

She wrote in 1951 that the Passion was the only aspect of Jesus’ life that she was interested in sharing: "I want to … drink ONLY [her emphasis] from His chalice of pain." And so she did, although by all indications not in a way she had expected.

As everyone who saw The Passion of the Christ will know, the Passion is more heavily emphasised in Roman Catholic spirituality than elsewhere.  That’s one reason why crucifixes appear in Catholic churches.  Earlier this year I featured the end of Bossuet’s Meditations on the Gospel; the last paragraph is as follows:

After this prayer, let us go with Jesus Christ to the sacrifice, and let us advance with Him to the two mountains; that is, to the Mount of Olives, and to that of Calvary. Let us go, I say, to these two mountains, and let us pass from one to the other: from that of the Mount of Olives, which is the one of agony, to that of Calvary, which is that of death; from the Mount of Olives, which is that of combat, to that of Calvary, where, in dying, one triumphs with Jesus Christ; from the Mount of Olives, which is the mountain of resignation, to that of Calvary, which is the mountain of actual sacrifice; and, finally, from the one where we say: Not my will but Thine be done, to the one where we say: Into Thy hands I commend my spirit (Luke xxii. 42; xxiii. 46); that is, from the one where we prepare ourselves for all things, to the one where we die to everything with Jesus Christ, to Whom be rendered honor and glory, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.

This is magnificent, and inspiring in the hands of an optimist like Bossuet.  The Passion is very important for taking away our sins, but by itself it only ends in death.  It is only validated by Jesus’ Resurrection, when he triumphs over death.

I think that Mother Teresa’s narrow focus on the Passion certainly steeled her for her work in Calcutta, but for her personally it was a disaster, and one that her Lord had already advanced beyond.

There are, of course, opposite tendencies.  One is an equal neglect of the Passion and a boresightedness on the Resurrection, where Christian life is an endless victory here and hereafter.  But we must remember the following:

It is true that we have our full share of the sufferings of the Christ, but through the Christ we have also our full share of consolation. If we meet with trouble, it is for the sake of your consolation and salvation; and, if we find consolation, it is for the sake of the consolation that you will experience when you are called to endure the very sufferings that we ourselves are enduring; And our hope for you remains unshaken. We know that, as you are sharing our sufferings, you will also share our consolation. (2 Corinthians 1:5-7)

Then, of course, we have ninnies like Christopher Hitchens:

In 1948, Hitchens ventures, Teresa finally woke up, although she could not admit it. He likens her to die-hard Western communists late in the cold war: "There was a huge amount of cognitive dissonance," he says. "They thought, ‘Jesus, the Soviet Union is a failure, [but] I’m not supposed to think that. It means my life is meaningless.’ They carried on somehow, but the mainspring was gone. And I think once the mainspring is gone, it cannot be repaired." That, he says, was Teresa.

Atheists like Hitchens are ill advised to disparage their scientific socialist predecessors.  They, too, will end up in the same boat.

Peace, Justice and Catholic Education

Back in the early 1980’s, I was involved in a Catholic Charismatic prayer group.  We were under a great deal of pressure, some of which was of our own making and some of which came from a Church which didn’t really care much for what we were doing.  It was also the days of "if you want peace, work for justice," the nuclear freeze, and other left-wing emphases which tended to deflect hierarchy and faithful alike from their relationship with God.

A major turning point for me took place on day when, while discussing things with one of our prayer group leaders, she mentioned that, because of the high tuition, she could not afford to send her eight children to Catholic school.  So they went to public school.

That revelation was the beginning of the end of me as a Roman Catholic.  I concluded that any church that was too bourgeois and self-satisfied not to subsidise its own needful children to attend the schools it wanted them to attend was too bourgeois to be an advocate for social justice.  So I took my leave on a course that’s best encapsulated in The Preferential Option of the Poor.

Now, a quarter of a century later, the Aussies are starting to realise that this is a problem in Australian Catholic schools: a preferential option for the wealthy?

The only hitch is that they’re looking at government funding for the schools.  And government funding brings government control, which will in the long run forces the schools to teach things the Church cannot support.  But at least the problem is recognised.

Hopefully someone on this side of the Pacific will tackle this problem as well.

A Link From Indonesia

In the course of all of the social, political and other rants that fill this blog, it’s easy to forget that a major source of visitors is our companion site, the site for geotechnical and marine engineering downloads.  In the course of those links this site received one from the website The works of Wiryanto Dewobroto, civil engineering lecturer at the Universitas Pelita Harapan in Indonesia.  Professor Dewobroto is Roman Catholic, and that in the largest Muslim country on the planet.

In the midst of the challenges that face Christians both here and in Indonesia, I especially like his vision statement:

do not worry about your life, . . . your heavenly Father knows that you need . . . . . . seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

His mission statement is as follows:

You are the light of the world. . . . Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Both of these are from Mathew’s Gospel, and they bear repeating in the times we live in.

The Catholic Calendar Script

One of the more popular features of this site is the Anglican Calendar Script, which announces the current liturgical event (Sunday, saint’s day, etc.) according to the traditional Anglican liturgical scheme.  I’ve gotten requests to expand it to include other liturgical calendars (TEC, RCC, etc.)

Well, it looks like another has risen to the challenge.  For you Roman Catholics who want something similar, the Hectorville (South Australia) Parish Music Ministry has taken the Anglican script and modified it for the Roman Catholic calendar.  This is very much a "work in progress" so take a look at it, try it and give your feedback to its author.

One major reason why I never took a run at doing this for the Catholic liturgical year is that the whole business of "ordinary time," starting after Epiphany and leaping over Lent, Easter and Pentecost to land in the North American summer (Australian winter,) makes programming a lot more complicated than it is for its traditional Anglican counterpart.  So kudos to the brave soul at Hectorville Parish who has taken on this task!