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.