Hierarchal limits: St Cyprian of Carthage

November 7, 2011

Continuing with the thoughts of the last post and that regarding the eucharist a couple of posts previously, here is a quote from St Cyprian that carries the same line of thought. A quote from St Ignatius of Antioch is included for comparison.

[A]nd they are the Church who are a people united to the priest, and the flock which adheres to its pastor. Whence you ought to know that the bishop is in the Church, and the Church in the bishop; and if any one be not with the bishop, that he is not in the Church, and that those flatter themselves in vain who creep in, not having peace with God’s priests, and think that they communicate secretly with some; while the Church, which is Catholic and one, is not cut nor divided, but is indeed connected and bound together by the cement of priests who cohere with one another. Wherefore, brother, if you consider God’s majesty who ordains priests, if you will for once have respect to Christ, who by His decree and word, and by His presence, both rules prelates themselves, and rules the Church by prelates;

And here is a quote from St Ignatius of Antioch saying the same thing:
“Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

In both of these we see that Christ is present in the hierarchs and that our union with Christ is ascertained by our union with the hierarchy. The Church is not apart from the hierarchs and so we are not with Christ if we are apart from the hierarchs even if you have been baptised and partakers of the eucharist; if we depart from the hierarchs then we depart from the Church. When we speak of the Church deciding something we speak of the hierarchy deciding such a thing because it is through them that Christ rules the Church and directs her. The Church is not a separate thing that makes decisions, it is Christ who makes decisions through the prelates that is the hierarchy. The hierarchs do not act as intermediaries to Christ but make him directly present to rule in the Church. They do so though in synergy and not as robots, so they can make human errors and speak heresy, if they speak of their own mind and not that of Christ. Hence, they need to be obedient to Him who rules the hierarchs by decree and word and by His presence. St Cyprian is clear here that membership of the Church is through union with the priests of the Church, that is the hierarchy and in particular the bishop. Union with the hierarchy includes and requires participation in the mysteries that they minister, through which were are united with Christ. The mysteries though are for the hierarchy not the hierarchy for the mysteries. That is the role of the hierarchy transcends the ministration of any particular mystery rather than being confined by them. That is why I use the term hierarchy to include all the mysteries with the bishop, presbyters and deacons (including all the priestly orders). The bishop is the head and completion of the hierarchy but one should not think of him isolated from the complete hierarchy including all its mysteries in various rites. Neither are hierarchic relations that unite us to Christ restricted to the Church hierarchy but they also occur in monastic relations, family relations and civil relations, although apart from the Church hierarchy these relations cannot effect union with Christ of themselves.

Why have a posted this? Because it is an important key that solves a number of problems. Firstly, it removes a problem of eucharistic ecclesiologists of the parish eucharists and not one episcopal eucharist, which arose because they hold that the hierarchy is for the mystery and so the bishop only has meaning as head of the eucharistic assembly. They argue that there was a change in theology with the growth of parishes but the hierarchal ecclesiology presented here does not have such an problem. Multiple parish eucharists are as consistent as a single episcopal eucharist. Secondly, it refutes Protestantism because there is no room for independent salvation nor private opinion contrary to the hierarchy. Thirdly, because the bishop is the head and completion of each hierarchy there is no place for a bishop of bishops. Also, the purpose of the hierarchy is to make Christ fully present in every place not one place which undermines the papal doctrine of the vicar of Christ being in one place. Yet, it requires levels of primacy as a structure to unite the priesthood with each other yet without having a single head on earth since this would deny that the hierarchy is to present one Christ in many places and that the Head is not on earth but above. Fourthly, it allows for economy and it is not purely mechanical. Fifthly, it is points to person to person relationships rather than any mechanical reception of mysteries. It maintains the focus on master/disciple relationship and in this regard also maintains the Apostolic foundation both as leaders and disciples and that such relationships are the core of our spiritual life again undermining Protestant thinking and exposing it as heresy. Sixthly, it permits one to speak of the Church in terms of the local church with its bishop, the church in terms of its regional or national presence, the church in terms of its patriarchal presence, which should be transnational/trans-regional, and the universal church since each can correspond to a synodal layer and be defined in terms of this. Universal church does not conflict with local church and even though there is no single head, that is no head of a synod of patriarchs who may call such a synod or hear appeals from a patriarchal synod, there can still be an ecumenical patriarch/pope or two with limited powers, hearing appeals instead of another patriarch and writing pastoral letters to any other local/regional/patriarchal church, to reflect the universal church. Seventhly, it allows each church to be both part and whole, including each parish within the diocese. There is no room for either divided autocephalism that ignores each being part nor for centralist papism that ignores each being whole.

Is the Eucharist episcopo-centric not presbytero-centric?

September 22, 2011

Is the Eucharist episcopo-centric not presbytero-centric? This is the view expressed by Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) as found in his article: “Ecclesiological Presuppositions of the Holy Eucharist” in The One and Many: Studies on God, Man, the Church and the World Today (Sebastian Press, 2010). He derives from this that a Presbyter serves in the name of the local bishop that the parish Eucharist is a problem because it does not have all the orders of the Church present because it does not include the bishop and so it must be seen as an extension of the bishop’s one Eucharist. This is in turn follows the logic that at the Eucharist there is the presence of the whole Church and a gathering of the faithful in one place with the bishop. The parish system is thus a distortion of the pure model of one congregation of the faithful in each place gathered around the bishop. Presbyters in this model seem to become vicars of the bishop, who is the required president of every Eucharist. Parishes are only parts of the community of people in one place but also part of the structure. So, is this correct?

The arguments for this view are quite strong and one can find support for them in the patristic literature. However, the results do not seem to properly reflect all the patristic evidence. For example St John Chrysostom describes the presbyter as a true president and teacher of his parish equal with the bishop in all but the power of ordination (Homily 11 on 1 Timothy). Also one can question the notion that a parish is somehow incomplete as a gathering of the Church without the physical presence of the bishops and that this must be somehow actualised. (If this is so on the grounds of all orders being present then the absence of each of a deacon, sub-deacon, reader, chanter, monk etc will also be a problem even if the bishop is present.)

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The Priest between the believer and God?

July 4, 2011

Some tend to attack the priesthood (hierarchy) as found in catholic churches (Orthodox, Oriental, Roman) as being something between the believer and Christ or God that somehow brings a separation of the believer from Christ. The claim is that every believer should have a direct relationship with Christ and not one through a mediator, other than Christ Himself. Because Christ has ascended then for them such a direct relationship is conceived in terms of only a “spiritual” relationship in the heart and/or mind. The thought of knowing Christ in the flesh is not seen as possible until the second coming. Christ is present only in spirit/thought.

In response, the hierarchy is not about putting something between the believer and Christ but something that enables the believer to have a direct concrete, in the flesh, relationship with Christ. It makes Christ present in fullness to the believer. The hierarchy in its wider sense, and in particular the Bishop, is an icon that enables the person of Christ to become present in a tangible manner. Meeting the Bishop or Presbyter and even other orders of the hierarchy, is having a direct encounter with Christ. The Bishop is the complete icon of this presence in a local church, the presbyter in a parish, an Abbot in a monastery, a husband in a family, and hence why he is shown particular honour and said to be “Master or Lord”. This is not to honour the Bishop (or others) as the man who is serving in the role but to honour Christ, who is present in the man serving this role. (A Patriarch is given the grandest titles because he is an icon of Christ among the Metropolitans, who in turn have grander titles than the Bishops in their regions.)

A direct relation with these various offices is a direct relation with Christ. A blessing from one is the blessing from Christ, sins forgiven by the Bishop or Presbyter are sins forgiven by Christ, the offerings given by them are the offerings of Christ. Joining with them is joining with Christ. Separating from them is separating from Christ and those who decry them as separating the believer from Christ are in reality separating themselves from Christ. Those setting up congregations apart from the Bishops are setting up congregations apart from Christ. One may claim to love Christ and be devoted to Him, even going to great lengths of self-sacrifice for this love, but if done so in rejection or apart from the hierarchy then it cannot bring one to union with Christ because one remains with his rejection apart from Christ, who has made Himself present to him but he does not believe and turns his back on Him, in effect seeking an image of Christ made in his own likeness.

The iconic nature of the hierarchy is such that should a member of the hierarchy fail to conform to the likeness of the icon then he is no longer able to continue his place in the hierarchy; he is deposed. The grace that enables him to make Christ present in his place in the hierarchy is removed and he no longer maintains the place. He does not receive some permanent power from God to exercise it on God’s behalf but acts as an icon in the likeness of Christ so that Christ acts in, through and with him in synergy. Once the icon loses its likeness then the grace is removed because Christ can no-longer be present in him. Thus, a priest who is in schism, or heresy, and so separated from the united hierarchy, which is only One because God is One, is no longer a priest.

So, the hierarchy (priesthood) is not something between the believer and God but is something that enables the believer to meet God. The priest makes Christ present as mediator. He is not a mediator to Christ but enables Christ, Himself, to mediate in concrete terms between the believer and God. Apart from the hierarchy we cannot come to have a complete personal relationship with Christ.

Changing the unchanging

February 24, 2011

There is a light bulb joke the asks “How many Orthodox monks does it take change a light-bulb?” The response is “Change??”

There is a sense among Orthodox (Catholic) Christians that there is no change in orthodoxy but what does this mean? Is there absolutely no-change in any aspect of orthodoxy? We may also ask what to we mean by orthodoxy? Is it a description of creed/dogma and practice or only creed/dogma or only practice? Then with any one of these options there is the question of what creed/dogma and what practice and the extent of creed/dogma or practice. Read the rest of this entry »

Life in a Windowless Monad

August 28, 2010


(Your Musical Accompaniment)

“These questions, however, have to be answered, from the point of view of systematic theology at least, by placing them within a much more radical framework, namely that of the fundamental question: Is the structure of the Christian Church in light of the gospel, monarchial or collegial? This question is undoubtably radical because it is asked, on the one hand, with the whole Christian people in mind and, on the other, from the point of view of what the Lord himself taught, that is, in the light of the gospel of Christ as a whole.

We may go further and say that, if the structure of the Church is conditioned by and subject to the norm of the gospel of Christ, we must base our argument less on the isolated descriptions or ideas of the Church which occur almost accidentally in the New Testament…and more on the general spirit of the words of the Lord as the origin of those images of the Church. That essentially new elemnt in the teaching of the Lord which distinguishes it from teaching contained in all the religions and ideaologies that have so far arisen in the history of man is the doctrine of the Trinity. This is the differentia specifica of Christianity.

In light of this faith in the Trinity, the Christian teaching about God’s being, the creation of the world and the cosmic mestaphysical order of the universe has always been different from that of other religions or ideaologies. It has, in a word, been trinitarian.  The idea of the Trinity is central, not only in the doctrine of the Christian Church, but also-and in the first place-in the teaching of the Lord himself. If this is so, then surely it is bound to inspire the whole task of the Christian Church to give a new structure to the created world. This brings us to the question of the relationship between the doctrine of the Trinity and Christology.

At the most holy moment of his life on earth and just before he left this world, Christ prayed to his Father and at the same time expressed his most fervent desire: ‘I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee.’ (John 17.20f.)

It is perhaps symptomatic that, in an attempt to stress the holiness of the ecumenical intention, these words are quoted nowaday at almost every meeting between Christians of different denominations. yet we usually think very little about these important words afterwards. The phrase ‘that they may be one’ expresses the practical and immediate aims of ecumenism better than the idea which follows, namely ‘as thou Father, art in me…’. But these words become even more meaningful perhaps if we remember that this exemplary mode of unity within the Trinity is the basic presupposition for the unity of the Church which we hope will be achieved. the importance of the whole passage is even further emphasized by the fact that Christ did not have a definite gorup of people, such as the apostles in mind when he spoke these words, but rather all those who believed in him and would believe in him throughout history.  It is this universal validity of the moral principle that is expressed here which gives it its distinctive and normative character.  This is why it must constitute the basic and first ecclesiolgy premise for all theological thinking at all times.

It is clear therefore that there must be a direct relationship between the doctrine of the Trinity and ecclesiology, a relationship expressed in fact in the striking parallel that exists between the fundamental theological questions of the Church’s Trinitarian and ecclesiological teaching. If the inner interrelationships that exist in the historical development of dogma in the Church have existed since the earliest times are borne in mind, it is not difficult to recognize that the main problem confronting all theological thinking throughout the history of the Church has always been the same-the fundamental question of the relationship between unity and multiplicity.

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An Equality of Honor

August 24, 2010

“One therefore is Christ both Son and Lord, not as if a man had attained only such a conjunction with God as consists in a unity of dignity alone or of authority. For it is not equality of honour which unites natures; for then Peter and John, who were of equal honour with each other, being both Apostles and holy disciples [would have been one, and], yet the two are not one.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria’s Third Letter to Nestorius

Apostolic Succession (4): St. Clement of Rome

May 19, 2010


A significant challenge to the historical case for the Apostolic succession of the Trifold ministry is that St. Clement of Rome teaches (1 Clement 44) a succession of only two tiers of ministry. The only offices that are described as continuing after the Apostolic age are “bishops and deacons”. But when he speaks of “bishops”, Clement means local ministers of the second tier—what we now call elders—not monarchical rulers who can rule one or more congregations and have the exclusive power to ordain. It seems like St. Clement’s apostolic succession is a succession of presbyter-bishops much as Presbyterians understand ministry, not monarchical bishops as Episcopalians (whether Roman, Orthodox, or Anglo-Catholic) understand the ministry. To answer this objection, I will quote from Felix Cirlot’s Apostolic Succession: Is It True? Cirlot argues that there are three tiers of ministry referred to in 1 Clement 44, not just two, and that succession is traced through the highest tier of ministry. Read the rest of this entry »

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