Vocation

After withdrawing from a particularly negative view of things as expressed in a certain blog, I turned more attentively to my nautical plans – only clothes and bathroom things into a dry bag, and everything will be just about ready to drive westwards to Brittany. I found this article – The High Calling in That Which Remaineth, a blog run by Dr Timothy Graham who is presently finishing an article for The Blue Flower.

The thought in Dr Graham’s article seems to reflect Berdyaev in some ways, especially the notion of the prophetic vocation compared with the priestly office of the Church. The two vocations sometimes go together, but not always. Some bloggers are preoccupied with material concerns like the “dynamic parish” and how viable a parish is made by the (financial) “success” of the priest. They fail to understand any notion of the high or spiritual calling.

He does make a good point that the prophetic vocation should be carefully distinguished from the priestly calling, which essentially comes from the hierarchical Church, the diocesan Bishop and the community. A notion enters the picture, that of inamissble character of the Sacrament of Order, a subject on which Dr Cyrill Vogel of Strasbourg University wrote in Ordinations Inconsistantes et Caractere Inadmissible, Turin 1978. It is particularly relevant when considering clergy in unusual canonical situations, see my old article Reflections about ‘vagante’ clergy and independent churches and its comments. I have been criticised for taking too much of an interest in “vagantes”, who in the eyes of some are the Untermensch meriting only the gas chamber after a long train journey to Poland! I take a more nuanced view. The indelible character as defined at the Council of Trent has engendered clericalism and the possibility of a person “getting valid orders” after having been refused for the ministry by a mainstream Church. Dr Graham would see a better integration between the ordained priesthood and the priesthood of all baptised believers.

We do seem to need to combat clericalism. The priesthood is a role within the Church, which might be Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox. It is a professional role like anything else that needs learning and training. As someone observed about me personally, in 2005, I gave up an episcopate that was a mistake and was going nowhere – in order to serve as a simple priest under legitimate episcopal authority. I left the TAC because there was very little of it left by 2012, and even then I waited before making the decision to apply to the ACC in early 2013. In my own mind, had I not been accepted into the TAC in 2005, I was ready to relinquish all orders and find some place as a lay Christian. I felt this duty to the core of my being.

I think that the point of Dr Graham’s criticism of the system of selecting and training candidates for the priesthood is not one of banalising the notion of vocation, but making careful distinctions. It is not reducing the priesthood to a bureaucratic function, but taking away some of the prophetic and clerical aura. It is usually a way for extroverted and socially skilled men. If I were a vocations director in this perspective, I would probably reject myself as not fitting the bill! There is the dimension of kingship and fatherhood, the man who goes out and gets, and who has a clear leadership role in the “dynamic parish”. Surely this is no place for the “artsy-fartsy” or someone with anything like autism, but real men who would otherwise have been army officers or high-grade civil servants, businessmen or bankers. What a poor Church such a vision would leave, dominance, no compassion, only competition for the prize – the very antithesis of the women’s ordination movement which is all about those women projecting the masculine archetype onto themselves!

Ideally, ordinands would be approved and trained by the parish from which he came, not chosen by bureaucrats and pushed through the seminary system. There are universities for theological education, but the real training – apart from the mechanics of the liturgy – is the pastoral and fatherly leadership of the future parish priest. Certainly, I am sawing the branch on which I am sitting. So be it. On the other hand, in my case, whilst I am under the jurisdiction of a Bishop, no good would come out of my relinquishing the priesthood and a more contemplative role. That is my constant examination of conscience…

The Church needs priests, but above all needs to rediscover its coherence as a family, a human community to which individuals bring their genius and gifts. There needs to be a greater manifestation of the prophetic vocation among the laity and a real appreciation of the priest, who is a sensitive human being, not some kind of super-tough soldier like Rambo! Many traditionalist communities began with seminaries and building up the clerical office, and seemed to be successful, but they have failed to revive Christian culture and the prophetic role. We Continuing Anglicans began with parishes and did what we could with scarce financial means to provide clergy – and sometimes the men involved were downright unsuitable due to personality issues. We are returning to some kind of “Benedict Option” as we bewail the passing of the Christian community that gives everything its meaning.

We have to keep thinking, devising new expressions of the Church and the priesthood. The French had the Prêtres Ouvriers in the 1940’s and 50’s. Anglicans have non-stipendiary clergy, and I myself have to earn a living from running a small translating business. The notion of the contemplative life, based as it logically is from the monastic tradition, needs to be expanded to include people living in ordinary homes in the ordinary world. This contemplative life involves the Opus Dei, the Office, but also study and manual work. In most places, especially in Europe, the parish has had its day – and we don’t know what to do with the cultural treasures that are the church buildings.

I am not very optimistic about the future: volcanos, plastic pollution, extreme weather, hostilities in the world, political unrest, displacements of entire populations, everything else we read about in the news. When the Church isn’t comfortably a part of the landscape, the eschatological vision comes into play as at other times in history. We also face our own deaths, which will come sooner than we expected. Our martyrdom may come through being killed by hateful people, or though our contemplative witness – and for that we don’t have to be priests, or relinquish a priesthood that has been received.

These are a few things that are learned through outside criticism, but also through the insight of friends and fellow philosophers.

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7 Responses to Vocation

  1. Timothy Graham says:

    Fr Anthony, I came across this article which is a succint expression of where some of my concerns are coming from:

    http://catholicityandcovenant.blogspot.com/2018/06/guru-or-blacksmith-hooker-and-gift-of.html

    I think that if the so-called pre-Tridentine “apprenticeship” model were followed there wouldn’t be the same vocational weighting towards extroverts in the priesthood as priests would be dealing with a smaller scale and less externalised religion. Instead of changing the model of priestly training, the response of most mainstream churches to smaller congregations is to close and merge parishes and create a parish (I am about to utter an abominable word) “TEAM”.

    • I have just read the article. Exactly my thought on the question, having myself been through a very elite and Tridentine training.

      In France it is the same problem as in the Church of England with the “team” ministries and pastoral sectors. The parish priest is as inaccessible as the diocesan bishop. The modern model of “church” is as noisy and invasive as the outside world. I hate the terms of “neurodiverse” and “neurotypical”, but they give a certain description of types of personalities. We in the continuing Anglican churches have precisely had to change the model of priestly training, since we don’t have money for seminaries. That creates its own difficulties with the minimum level of doctrinal formation and practical skills. The problem is not having many well-established parishes.

      The real problem is the failure of the parish system, to the delight of atheists! Many “independent” clergy devised the term of “niche ministry”: getting involved with humanitarian work like Archbishop Jerome Lloyd in Brighton. Most of the more seemingly sincere “independent sacramental movement” clergy have given up or disappeared, or live as laymen. The “niche” idea needs to be developed and refined, expanded and extended, but how does one minister specifically as a priest? Perhaps like Fr Charles de Foucauld, you don’t minister but do your “stuff” and it will be felt if one’s ministry is real and from the heart. That is some challenge!

    • For some time, i as well was thinking about what are we to do with the priestly training and size of our parishes. And like you, i think that the training should be localized. I don’t know who thought that uprooting a person from their midst, and moving him from post to post every few years would make him a good pastor. Why don’t we do the same to the bishops? There is basically an unwritten rule in the CC which is the one that you can’t be a parish priest in your own parish. But why?

      And i don’t know why is it still considered a good idea to minister to thousands of people at the same time, although one could argue that given the percentage that actually care about their parish and God in general, we already have small parishes.

      So, naturally, i also think that that we should have smaller communities, but not only that. Bishops should have smaller dioceses. Actually, parishes should be promoted to level of bishoprics. That way, there is more authority resources and “spiritual resources” in general per given number of people.
      I understand that that would give us 400 000 more bishops in the world…

      But then again, a cynic in me asks, should we care?
      Whenever you gain quantity, you lose quality, but also,
      whenever you have quality, you get quantity, because of quality’s attractive power.
      Thus, quality is self-destructive, because of how we as humans are.

      Given that, i ask myself, why should we care to have better and smaller communities, if they will inevitably grow larger and worse, and if people will inevitably hyperexternalize their devotion…

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        One of the Choruses from Eliot’s The Rock (1934) comes to mind, “They constantly try to escape / From the darkness without and within / By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good” (Part I, ed. 1: p. 42).

        Such systems or structures are impossible, yet could not a way of doing things be well enough lived to go on, and go on better than other ways? Could “better and smaller communities” be so ordered as to yield more like them, at a certain point as “they […] grow larger” and before they grow worse, and people have proper external devotions, without hyperexternalizing them – a sort of ‘dynamic equilibrium’ sustained indefinitely? It sounds abstract, yet not strictly impossible. But what-all then does the ‘how best to do it’ involve, formally?

      • One such system could be found in the monastery and the daughter houses the first one gives birth to.

        But what am i actually looking for? I find both EF and OF unsatisfying and i’m fantasizing about some kind of sub-apostolic liturgy, and i often forget that it’s just me and that i’m just projecting my liturgical and religious wants onto everybody else.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Two interesting articles linked (for which, thanks!), which I read in reverse order, the ‘Hookerian’ first and Dr. Graham’s second. The ‘Hookerian’ one got me thinking of Richard Baxter’s ideas (as expressed in the old Everyman version of his Autobiography) which seem very much in keeping with the quotations from Hooker, and his express admiration for and agreement with Archbishop Ussher’s ideas about a sort of ‘Ignatian episcopacy’ – which I find again (to my mind) at the end of Dr. Graham’s: “that every group of gathered Christians should have a bishop or his vicar a presbyter, aided by a deacon, and that these should be chosen out ‘from among them’ for the role”.

    Dr. Graham’s also reminded me of H.A. Hodge’s Anglicanism and Orthodoxy (1955).

    I got round to reading both, only after reading Fr. Anthony’s latest, occasioned by his coming 20th anniversary.

    One thought which somehow came to mind was that of clergy, cathedrals, churches, chapels, and services in mediaeval romances, of which I have mostly read Arthurian ones, and, other than Malory, in translation. My impression (which invites/requires rereading to check) is of mostly great feasts celebrated in cathedrals and other services in chapels, often in the middle of nowhere, with no real attention to parishes. This got me thinking there must be quite a monography of ‘Hermit priests in courtly romances’, and wondering how in the world one would find out more.

    I don’t know much about hermits, or the interrelations of eremiticism and the rise of monastic priesthood, but it seems clear to me that a celebration by a hermit priest is very much one of ‘the whole, universal Church’, even though he is the only member of the ‘people of God’, the ‘royal priesthood’, physically present. In the romances, such a hermit is sometimes joined by a knight errant, or two.

    Trying Hermit priests as a search term did not turn up much – though, interestingly the Rev. James Owen Hannay’s expanded Donnellan Lectures: The Spirit and Origin of Christian Monasticism (1903), while then following his mysterious-seeming author link (Birmingham, George A., 1865-1950) revealed him as prolific author under that pseudonym, and, under his own name, author of The Wisdom of the Desert (1904). His pseudonym Wikipedia article revealed this clergyman of the Church of Ireland as a sailor as well!: “James Hannay enjoyed sailing, and was taught the rudiments by his father and grandfather in Belfast. When he was based in Westport, his financial success of his writing enabled him to purchase a boat.”

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