Thursday, January 08, 2009

Pastoral priesthood

Recently I posted a section from the book A Theological Introduction to The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, by E.J. Bicknell, where he defended the validity of Anglican orders against the polemics of Rome. Although this one little section of his book is not as long or comprehensive as Saepius Officio (1897), nor as long as Dom Gregory Dix's The Question of Anglican Orders, Letters to a Layman (1944), it is perhaps more useful due both to its brevity, and to how thoroughly, despite its brevity, Bicknell proved the Anglican case against the Roman position. He left not a stone unturned. If you have not read it, I suggest clicking on the link, and reading it carefully, perhaps doing so now before coming back to this post.

For purposes of instruction to Anglicans, in addition to the confidence Bicknell's treatment bolsters in the validity of our sacraments (especially to those who have been either confused or damaged in conscience by the misinformation and bad reasoning of Apostolicae Curae, 1896, about which Bull we have written much on this blog), we have in Bicknell's work a very important statement about the nature of the priesthood. Here is the part we shall focus on for our present purpose.

In order to defend the the action of the Church of England we must go back to first principles. Here, as elsewhere, the Church of England desired to return to antiquity. She appealed against one-sided and perverted medieval ideas to Scripture and primitive tradition. In the later Middle Ages the function of offering the Eucharistic sacrifice had assumed such undue prominence in the popular idea of the priesthood, that there was serious danger of forgetting the ministry of the Word and the pastoral work that belong essentially to the Office. The Reformers rightly desired to recall men to a fuller and better-proportioned view of the ministry. Accordingly, in the Ordinal the comparatively late addition of the 'porrectio intrumentorum' and the singling out of the sacrificial function of the priesthood were omitted. This did not mean that the Church of England in any sense intended to institute, as it were, a new order. The preface to the Ordinal, composed in 1550 and continued in 1552, makes it as clear as human language is able to make it, that she intended to continue those orders which had been in the Church from the days of the Apostles, namely Bishops, Priests and Deacons, in the same sense as they had always existed. When we turn to Scripture we find no stress laid upon the authority given to ministers to celebrate the Eucharist. It is preposterous to suppose that our Lord chose or ordained the Apostles chiefly or primarily to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice. In S. Paul's address to the presbyter-bishops * of Ephesus, the stress is laid on the faithful preaching of the Word and the care of the flock (Acts 20.28-31). In the Pastoral Epistles, in the choice of presbyters the emphasis is laid on the possession of qualities of character which are needed for pastoral supervision and teaching (I Tim3.1-7, cp. 5.17, Tit 1.7-9). So S. Peter places in the forefront of the duty of presbyters the general oversight of the flock (I Pet. 5.1-4). In such passages as these there is no explicit mention of the Eucharist. No one can doubt that it was the centre of Christian worship on every Lord's Day, nor that any one of the presbyter-bishops had authority, if need be, to preside. But when we compare the New Testament picture of the presbyters with the modern Roman idea of the priest, we feel the centre of gravity has shifted. So, too, in the early Church, the power to celebrate the Eucharist is not the predominant mark of the presbyter. It is not isolated from his other functions. It is not singled out for special mention in primitive ordinals. It was only during the Middle Ages and as a result of a one-sided view of the sacrifice of the Eucharist that an equally one-sided view of the office of priesthood came to be held. At the Reformation the Church of England of set purpose returned to the primitive conception of the ministry...

So, then, our real quarrel with the Church of Rome is, at bottom, about the meaning of the priesthood and of the Eucharistic sacrifice. We contend that Roman teaching on both is so out of proportion as to be almost untrue. If the Church of Rome chooses to say that we do not intend to make priests exactly in her sense of the word, we are not concerned to deny it. We are content to make priests in accordance with the ministry of the New Testament and the Primitive Church.

It is here that Bicknell restores for us a fuller and better view of the priesthood than what has been presented many times, including what has been presented among the kind of Anglo-Catholics who have succumbed to the notion that Rome gets to define all things Catholic for us. For some the balance has been lost, and the πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros) has been replaced completely by the sacerdos. This has caused a deficiency in terms of everything else that the elder, that is the presbyter, has been ordained to do. As important as Eucharistic sacrifice is, and as central as it is to the life and worship of the Church, we must not neglect a fully-formed understanding of the role of the Christian priest. Anglicanism knows nothing of "choir priests" who have been ordained only to minister at the altar, and who have no pastoral responsibilities. That is because the "choir priest" is a product of medieval imbalance, and was unknown to the ancient Church.*

It is not that Eucharistic sacrifice is less than completely essential to the role of the priest, but simply that he must develop his full ministry. As Bicknell put it in one of his footnotes: "As we have said, the English word priest by derivation simply means 'presbyter'. But it has acquired the meaning of 'sacerdos'. The Christian presbyter in virtue of his office is a 'priest'. Priesthood is one of his functions." Indeed, the larger emphasis in the ancient Church was on his role as an elder, and his pastoral care for the Church was explained both in scripture and in other early Christian writings, usually by employing the word "rule" (προΐστημι, proïstēmi). This kind of ruling has the Bible for its support. Look at these examples from the New Testament epistles.

"Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine." I Tim. 5:17

"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." Heb. 13:17

Though not using the word "rule," the same thing is expressed in this passage: "And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves." I Thes. 5:12, 13

In his classic work, Regula Pastoralis (literally, Rule of the Pastors, better known in English by the title, Pastoral Care), Pope St. Gregory the Great (circa 540 to 604) defines the word "rule" as it applies to presbyters. In this book, St. Gregory displayed a better understanding of human psychology than many modern doctors possess, examining repeatedly the attitudes and presumptions people have, and in each case the opposite. He does so in light of the need every person has strictly in light of the Christian doctrine of the Fall. Knowing that sin and death have weakened everyone, creating specific and varying deficiencies of character in just about everybody, Gregory instructs the presbyter in how to meet the needs of those whom he "rules." We learn from this that the rule of pastors in God's church is medicinal, a part of the healing that the Lord provides for his flock. The rule is not a dictatorial or tyrannical or authoritarian position taken as lords over God's people, but a remedial ministry of those who are ordained to be fathers in God's family. "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?"asks St. Paul, rhetorically (I Tim 3:5).

Both from the ancient writings (that include, above all, scripture) and from ancient ordinals, we see the main emphasis in the office of presbyter as of one who, in this fatherly and kind manner, rules. We see also a very large emphasis on teaching. This is why the kind of priest we do not need is the man who has been thoroughly trained as an expert on liturgy, who knows Ritual Notes backwards and forwards, but possesses neither the theological skill to teach and enlighten, nor the pastoral skill to "rule" as a benevolent father. Yes, attention to liturgy is a very important responsibility; and leading the people in the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Church must be done with great care and reverence (whether for a congregation that likes it high or low or in between). The sacrament of Holy Communion is, after all, one of those sacraments that is "generally necessary to salvation," and so nothing is more important than celebration and administering the sacrament.

But, the work of the Christian priest does not end there. Indeed, at that point it may just be getting started.
*In fairness, these days many among the Roman Catholic clergy see the same importance on pastoral ministry that we do.


Canon Tallis said...

This is another one out of the park, Father, and one which I hope those reading this blog will take completely to heart. It reminds me very much of the passage from the Acts which for me serves as a definition of the task of the Church: "and they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship and in the breaking of bread and prayers." Right doctrine which is what I believe the fathers of the English Reformation were seeking naturally leads to the fellowship, the communion and community which we are to find in the Eucharist and the offices.

As one who came to know and love the medieval liturgies of England while a college student, I also came to understand how they had come to fail in their task of setting forth "the apostles' doctrine and fellowship" as a consequence both of their language and their elaborateness. It was clearly from a desire that the English people come to know, appreciate, love and live "the apostles' doctrine" that they were translated into the successive prayer books.

As an unrepentant Southeron and unreconstructed Confederate, I rejoice in that old Southron saying: "Hate the sin and love the sinner and see the gentlemen get their dinner" which I see as a folk construction of the message of the Gospel.True pastoral priesthood - both of the minister and of the Church - consists of preaching the Truth as Jesus delivered it to his apostles and they handed it over to the earliest church, and doing so without covering it over with too much embroidery or too many jujus so that the centrality of who our Lord was and what he did doesn't get obscured by unnecessary extras. \

Canon Tallis said...

An addition, if I may. It was not Bicknell who restored for us "a fuller and better view of the priesthood," but he who recognizes what the intent of the true Anglican reformers was. But this is part of the value of Bicknell, Moss, Staley and others of the old high church party in that they would not allow what Rome did or was to define their view of what was properly and completely Catholic. They like Elizabeth I looked to the Church which wrote and collected the Gospels, Epistles and Revelation, wrote the creeds and defended the faith from paganism not only in words but in martyrdom as being the place where they could best find a satisfactory definition of what was truly "according to the whole."

On a doctrinal level I believe this blog to be completely in that tradition, and wish that the silliness of Anglo-papalist imitation of the worst of what Fortescue himself derided as "Roman bad taste" would be displaced with a proper Anglican liturgical use based upon the rubrics of the prayer book tradition and English canon law. I have only recently listened to the dispair of one who find the preciousness of so many continuum parishes simply too much to be further endured.

To me, and I hope for others, the real and truly Catholic ideal of the priesthood is that which Father Bicknell and Father Hart have set forth in this post. I simply wish it was for effectively set forth by all the bishops, priests, deacons and parishes of the Continuum.

Steve Cavanaugh said...

To comment, I'll begin with Fr. Hart's footnote about "in all fairness..."

The understanding of the pastoral nature of the presbyterate is not something that has been recovered in the Roman Communion only in "these days". In fact, there were movements to re-emphasize preaching long before the era of the Reformation, and the Council of Trent was concerned with this as well as shown in these two quotes:

"But seeing that the preaching of the Gospel is no less necessary to the Christian commonwealth than the reading thereof; and whereas this is the principal duty of bishops; the same holy Synod hath resolved and decreed, that all bishops, archbishops, primates, and all other prelates of the churches...preach the holy Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Archpriests, curates, and all those who in any manner so ever hold any parochial, or other, churches, which have the cure of souls, shall...feed the people committed to them, with wholesome words, according to their own capacity, and that of their people; by teaching them the things which it is necessary for all to knew unto salvation, and by announcing to them with briefness and plainness of discourse, the vices which they must avoid, and the virtues which they must follow after, that they may escape everlasting punishment, and obtain the glory of heaven."
Chapter 2 of the Decree on Reformation of the 5th Session of the Council of Trent

"Whereas it is by divine precept enjoined on all, to whom the cure of souls is committed, to know their own sheep; to offer sacrifice for them; and, by the preaching of the divine word, by the administration of the sacraments, and by the example of all good works, to feed them; to have a fatherly care of the poor and of other distressed persons, and to apply themselves to all other pastoral duties; all which (offices) cannot be rendered and fulfilled by those who neither watch over nor are with their own flock, but abandon it after the manner of hirelings; the sacred and holy Synod admonishes and exhorts such... [that they] are obliged to personal residence in their own church, or diocese, where they shall be bound to discharge the office enjoined them; and may not be absent thence..."
Chapter I of the Decree on Reformation of the 23rd Session of the Council of Trent

These decrees and similar teachings did not immediately bring about reform, but there was certainly no shortage of Roman priests who knew that their office obliged to more than offering the Holy Sacrifice.

As to the search for balance in the carrying out of the ministry, while one intention of the reforming parties in both England and the Continent was almost uniformly to increase the reception of Holy Communion by the laity, as well as to see pastors preaching more regularly, in most of the reformed churches, the celebration of the Lord's Supper declined. In England, once per month or even once per quarter celebration was not unheard of, and the very untraditional use of the Fore-Mass as a separate office of worship came about. Even the community of Nicholas Ferrar in Little Gidding only celebrated Holy Communion once monthly. I am sure that this was an example of the working of the "law of unintended consequences", but the de-emphasis of the unique priesthood held by the presbyters of the Church no doubt contributed to this (as did the economics of supplying wine to the entire parish each week, especially in England, which produced so little of it).

Apostolicae Curae makes mention of "Many of the more shrewd Anglican interpreters of the Ordinal have perceived the force of this argument, and they openly urge it against those who take the Ordinal in a new sense..." (par. 32), which, in context, refers to Anglicans who denied the sacramental nature of Holy Orders and the sacerdotal character of the presbyterate and episcopate. I fully realize that the official teaching of the Church of England should rightly be found in the decrees of Convocation, such as that of 1571 that stipulated that preachers "should not teach any thing as matter of faith, religiously to be observed, but that which is agreeable to the Old and New Testament: or collected out of the same doctrine by the ancient fathers and catholic bishops of the Church," which does not support such a view of Holy Orders and the Priesthood. But the "comprehensive" span of teaching on any number of issues, including these, that has historically been expounded from Anglican pulpits has not always had the balance that Fr. Hart sees in Bicknell's writing, and not only amongst the Anglo-Catholics that Fr. Hart mentions; early Puritan-minded and more recent Evangelical-minded Anglicans have been similarly unbalanced, in the other direction. I suspect more Anglicans have been confused or damaged in conscience by Low Church anti-sacerdotal teachings (which can all too often accompany and abet a "Jesus and me" sort of spirituality that is hardly pastoral) than by Anglo-Catholics, who after all, were precisely the ones in the 19th century who went to the city slums to do pastoral work.

As for the choir priest being a product of medieval imbalance, there is some truth to that, but I think this was less a doctrinal imbalance than a social one. In a society where nearly all wealth was tied to ownership of land, it was common enough that "excess" sons were parceled out to the church and army, to keep family property intact and sufficient to raise up the next generation. This over supply of priests, coupled with the real terror that late Medieval Europeans lived in after successive waves of the plague, likely had more to do with the foundation of chantries and the choir priests attached thereunto. In an age when sudden death through plague became all too common, people tried to provide for the eventuality of death with the only "insurance" then at hand...continued prayer for their purification after death. Even Henry VIII made provision for two Masses to be said daily for the sake of his soul. Choir priests did engage in pastoral work, although not as proper pastors of a parish; but their educational work, whose loss with the closing of the chantries was keenly felt, was certainly a form of pastoral work.

I'm not sure I'd agree with Canon Tallis' conclusion that the medieval liturgies, "had come to fail in their task of setting forth "the apostles' doctrine and fellowship" as a consequence both of their language and their elaborateness..." only because those liturgies were not celebrated as he or any of us would have experienced them. Those liturgies were one part of the (to use a contemporary phrase) "faith life" of the communities, which included everything from the devotional societies and parish guilds to the parish ales. Our experience of a "staged" liturgy, apart from parish life, is not the same as the experience of the medieval Christians.

But there was certainly a dearth of preaching in the late medieval Latin Church; unfortunately, neither the English reformers nor the fathers at Trent eliminated this problem: in the English Church Elizabeth I suspended one Archbishop of Canterbury for supporting the "prophesyings", and the growth of Methodism in the 18th century was a response to a later dearth of preaching; continental and Latin American Catholicism often suffered from the same lack. It seems to be a perennial problem in the Church: St. Francis de Sales produced a very nice book, On the Preacher and Preaching published in 1626, because it was a duty of bishops too little observed, to dedicate themselves to preaching the Word of God, and this is the heart of the pastoral work of a bishop or priest.

Steve Cavanaugh

poetreader said...

Just a quick observation. You quote Trent as encouraging preaching and pastoral work as part of wghat a priest truly is. I agree that that is the official standard, but it simply isn't what I heard from RCs I knewin the 50s and early 60s, or read in the many imprimatured ttracts I read in those days. The official standard and what was generally current did not quite match. Then you point out the many abuses that most certainly did occur among Anglicans, and try to claim that the practice outweighed the official standards. I'd think the same standard would apply to both. If it be official standards we are examining, I guess we aren't all that far apart on these particular matters. If however it be frequently heard and somewhat approved departures from the official standards that we use in making our judgments, well then, one would have to judge BOTH churches as seriously in error, perhaps heretical. I think you've unconsciously applied a double standard here, as is very commonly done by both "sides".


Fr. Robert Hart said...

I sense that Steve Cavanaugh felt a need to defend the Roman Catholic Church, and that this comes across in parts his comment. As a matter of fact, my Roman Catholic brother has used the same portions of Trent, and earlier writings, to make the same point about what the duties of the priesthood are. The Articles, which are the subject of Bicknell's book, were not written to correct the official doctrine of the Magisterium, but rather to set forth correct doctrine against many forces of influence, including Calvinism, Lutheranism, Zwinglianism, and Anabaptistry, in addition to disagreement with Rome on specific matters.

The issue is less one of official doctrine than of commonly held errors, often purely cultural matters, or the consequences of history. For this reason, I have no doubt that many fine RC priests can read this post of mine, and nod their heads in agreement with its major point.

In the spirit of those who composed the Articles in their final form, my intention is to address commonly held errors among my own kind, that is, Anglo-Catholics. In their eagerness to "out Catholic the Romans," or to imitate their perception of the same, combined with abysmal ignorance and romantic notions of perfect ecclesiastical culture, some of them have decided that the "choir priest" is the model. A model it may be if by "model" we mean a small replica of the real thing. For this reason, and by this definition, their sermonettes of 7 minute length are also "models."

Anyway, I do not intend this post to attack Rome, and I applaud some of the priests I have known in that communion, especially my flesh and blood brother, who work hard as pastors, and who labor in the word and doctrine.

Canon Tallis said...

And for that last commment, a double Te Deum Father Hart; first in Latin and then in English to be followed by multiple "Amens" in the fashion of Alleluias.

The most important thing is to correct our own errors and to attempt seriously to live up to our own standards - which as you so expertly point out are very high - High Bible, High Fathers, High Creeds and very hopefully, High and loving Evangelism!

Steve Cavanaugh said...


I certainly didn't mean to apply a double-standard. My point was simply that the all too common abuse of no preaching or of poor preaching (which I take to be an essential component of pastoral priesthood) has unfortunately been common in both the English Church (and her descendents) and in the Continental Catholic Church and its later plants. I began with the Tridentine notes only because Fr. Hart's footnote made it seem like the ideal of pastoral priesthood was a recent one in the Roman communion. Finally, I did not mean to imply that the abuses in English Church life outweighed the official teachings and goals; only to point out that the failure to attain the ideal has afflicted both of our communions.

I know that there are no shortage of anecdotes about priests who fell short of the ideal (as you mention about specific time periods) but there's certainly been plenty of other Roman priests who have been assiduous confessors, hospital visitors, and counselors and teachers. Just as I know has been true in the US Episcopal Church over the past centuries and in England.

As for defending the Roman Church, I didn't think Fr. Hart was on the attack, but Bicknell does speak of a quarrel and of Roman teaching verging on heresy ("We contend that Roman teaching on both is so out of proportion as to be almost untrue."). I felt that perhaps merited calling out; the teaching is not at fault, as the ideals for pastoral care to be exercised by priests of both communions are similar. (And while I did re-read the linked article in Fr. Hart's original post, I didn't have access to Bicknell's book, so I had no idea that the thrust of his arguments was equally against "Calvinism, Lutheranism, Zwinglianism, and Anabaptistry." Nothing in the quoted material concerns that. But I did check, it's in the library system, and I've ordered it to review! ;)

Steve Cavanaugh

poetreader said...

We're really on the same page, though having a certain amount of disagreement about parts of the content. A distinction always has to be made between Teaching and teaching (for present purpises, one with a cap & one without).
The Teaching of a church (any church, denomination, jurisdiction, whatever)is the standards to which it is committed in a formal way; however, the teaching actually presented within that church is not necessarily faithful to its official Teaching. Those tracts I mentioned from the 50s, bearing the imprimatur of various RC bishops, did represent what the people were being taught, but not necessarily what their church held should be taught. Some of their assertions, in fact, could arguably be said to have been already labeled as heresy. The same might be said for certain pronouncements of Anglican bishops which were, in fact, not conformable to the standards they had pledged to uphold. Much polemic from both sides is aimed at such abuses rather than at the true teachings of the respective churches. Bishops, theologians, and other teachers are fallible, and it is not always appropriate to judge a whole church on the basis of the errant behavior of some.

When, however, a whole church officially adopts wrong standards, such as the official recognition of female 'ordination' or the revision of doctrine so as to bless sexual immorality, then one may legitimately judge such an organization.


J. Gordon Anderson said...

I recently bought and read John Jay Hughes masterpiece, "Stewards of the Lord: A Reappraisal of Anglican Orders." He makes it clear in the book that Trent never developed a theology of the priesthood as later Roman apologists seemed to maintain. He demonstrates the unsoundness of Fr. Francis Clarke's notion that Anglican orders are invalid in form and intention, and shows how Fr. Clarke deliberately quoted selected portions of texts that agreed with his thesis. He also shows the absurdity that the western Church's Eucharistic theology and practice had become in the late Middle Ages, and why the Reformers reacted the way they did.

Anyone interested in this question simply has to read Hughes two important books on the subject: this one, and "Absolutely Null and Utterly Void: A History of the Condemnation of Anglican Orders." His biography that just came out, "No Ordinary Fool", is also worth reading - especially when he relates the story of meeting Francis Clarke in Rome after SOTL was published and how Clarke was very bitter and enraged towards him for completely refuting him.

Anonymous said...

Our priest has claimed his relationship with us should be "fraternal" rather than "paternal." I disagree but keep my mouth shut.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Our priest has claimed his relationship with us should be "fraternal" rather than "paternal." I disagree but keep my mouth shut.

What does he do with I Tim. 3:5?

"For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?"

Anonymous said...

There's a strong tendency towards egalitarianism in moderns and his attitude is an all-too-typical attempt at leveling.

He talks about liking Anglicanism because it's "democratic" presumably compared to Roman Catholicism. I don't think Catholicism is "democratic."

That said, he's a good man.

poetreader said...

We don't have a president, we have a King, and he doesn't rule with the consent of Parliament, but has absolute authority. Furthermore we are told that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and that there is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the ways therof are the ways of destruction. Thank God it's not a democracy. We'd decide ourselves right into Hell, just as it appears some "churches" are now democratically doing.


Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

Excellent post! I couldn't agree with your thesis more.