NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part VII
"Rank and Order" within the Church. Is this what Jesus ordered?
Reader Bill Dowsley from NSW questions me about rank, both in church and in America; we do have in the States, if generalizations ever have any value, a sense of the ordinary man's importance and a contempt for those in power, certainly offering no love affair relationship to our politicians; many take seriously "We, the People,…" (AMERICAN CONSTITUTION) and I sense the value of the common person is having a spillover into religion.
I'm picking up that this same spirit is strong n Australia. I am thoroughly convinced that the human quest for freedom and dignity, starting with the Magna Carta and developing through the American and French Revolutions, freedom from world-wide slavery, women's right to vote in America, sexual revolution of the 1960's, etc., etc. has pried loose the tight grip of the powerful over the individual, with the final frontier perhaps religious institutions. The positive image of church rank is fast becoming nil; I have heard that some dioceses have encouraged their clergy to dress in civilian clothes until the sex scandals have blown over (good luck). Personally I have often said that when archeologists discover that Jesus was a roman monsignor I will be the first in line to apply for the title. Put up with me as I offer my rundown on the Roman Church's use of titles and offices. Let's go the old way and start from the top down; I'm old fashioned whereas Rome has some new titles today, while keeping a tight ship on who can hold officium, a latin word that is a dead give away of the tie to the militaristic Roman Empire Government of old. By the way I also write to those who are not of the Roman Catholic persuasion; some are often puzzled by red robes.
POPE: Obviously the title pope means "papa", the grand-daddy of the Roman Grand Old Opera; officium = bishop of Rome, perhaps the most accurate nomenclature. One might question Peter having his cathedra (ruling seat or throne) in the Eternal City but have no doubt that local wealthy families saw their sons become most of the 154 bishops of the Eternal City until Gregory the VII who, bringing kings to their knees in 1073, breaks out of Mediterranean confines, and is crowned with a tiara, the triple hat signifying ruler of heaven, earth, and church; from local political candidates the Bishop of Rome henceforth becomes the grand bishop of the world. When John Paul II, deplaning in Buenos Aries, kissed the soil he was telling the world that Argentina was Vatican Territory.
Peter de Rosa (VICARS OF CHRIST, 1988) offers an eye-opening read on the successors to Peter, including irreligious 16-year-old John the 12th, 955 ce, and brotherly John the 23rd with whom I fell in love in 1961 … "long live the pope his praises sound again and yet again; his rule is over space and time, his throne the hearts of men…", this I remember from 1930's grade school, when Pius the 12th reigned. The papacy is an elected office in the Roman Catholic Church; its history and continuity is being carefully investigated by scholars; the history of infallibility is an ego centered mind blower. Only one pope is known to have resigned; the rest die in office, giving the cardinals opportunity to make some holy smoke.
CARDINAL: not an office of the church, no ordination, by papal appointment only; today these men elect a new pope upon the death of the former. The word itself comes from the latin for hinge; like hanging a door on hinges, cardinals hang around the pope, literally. What is now called the Sacred College of Cardinals was once Middle Age bankers who brought their gold coins to the election of a new pope, hoping to get inside the graft-filled system; they had huge palaces, many female companions, and countless servants. For a modern day fictional conversion story read Robert Blair Kaiser's CARDINAL MAHONEY 2007 … (could be true; I laughed myself to sleep reading this book, so close to reality). The cardinal-archbishop of Los Angeles with the largest diocese in the Untied States recently built a 143 million dollar cathedral whereas he ordained four priests in 2006 — three of whom were born overseas. Roger the Dodger faces possible perjury charges in the Stockton, Ca. courts over the clerical abuse scandal. Technically a lay person can become a cardinal, being priest or bishop is not legally required. Any pope can lessen or increase the numbers. Cardinal Bernard Law, eased out of the US before he got arrested, spends his Sundays saying Mass for picture-taking tourists in St. Mary Major basilica. A basilica is a pope's church; Mission Dolores Basilica, my boyhood parish, has the traditional yellow umbrella off to the side of the sanctuary, just in case the pope visits and its raining. A cardinal takes a vow to protect the pope in any given circumstance … even if he goes against the Gospel? If one thinks the bishops are secretive, try the College of Cardinals which has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus the Christ. We do know they get a red hat when elected and they wear robes of slightly different crimson hue.
BISHOP: this roman government office existed before Christianity; an episcopus (bishop) is the overseer of the roman emperor's lands and assets. Diocletian fearing overthrow downsized areas of the Roman Empire, each diocese having a smaller legion, as well as an overseer of finances. Christianity locked into this office as it was freed to become a meaningful member of the roman religions under the Edict of Milan 318 ce. As the empire fell the diocese and its bishops took over political and financial power with worldwide outposts headed by the bishop of Rome; Congar charges that this is where the early bishops sold out Christianity.
Today Rome selects bishops, whereas they were appointed by the people in the first millenium; today a man must be first a priest before he becomes a bishop. A bishop holds the full power of Jesus Christ, so the institution claims; some, many myself included, see many a slip between cup and lip in documenting their lineage. I have deep difficulty envisioning 12 bishops at the Last Supper. A bishop in early church community would be part of the group that welcomed newly baptized, representing and giving the community's confirming approval of new membership.
The term ARCHBISHOP designates a bishop whose SEE (diocese) has been a mother diocese from which new ones are formed. Now rarely used Excellency, Your Grace, and Primate are hold-over titles from the Middle Ages, while the land owner's hat of the 12th century (miter [mitre in Aus]) and the crosier (shepherd's herding stick … few laity today like being called sheep to be herded), signs of their episcopal office are still standard gear.
I recall when Archbishop William Levada went to Rome to get his PALIUM, an ermine-lined cross type shoulder-neck garment; I have not been able to trace its history while today it seems to stand for the power of the office, definitely fuedal system. An auxiliary bishop is just that, one who helps the suffragant (bishop who holds office) while a coadjutor waits in the wings to take over when the reigning bishop dies or retires. 75 is usually when a bishop submits his resignation to the Pope. Was it Walter Kasper, cardinal of Austria, who in 2007 challenged modern bishops to stay with their people and stop looking for bigger and more wealthy dioceses?
PRIEST (saecular or in-the-world) a church office: from Wikipedia…
"… presbyteros (Ancient Greek: πρεσβύτερος), Latinized as presbyter, is traditionally translated priest and the English word priest is indeed etymologically derived from this word; literally, however, this word means elder"
Practically speaking Rome recognizes only a male who has had two hands placed on his head by a legitimate bishop in an ordination ceremony; the bishop transfers to the ordinandi his power to consecrate and teach while the newly ordained promises obedience and cooperation to the ordaining bishop and his successors. The Roman Church's ceremony of investiture with stole (symbol of ancient Roman Empire political power) and symbolic anointing of hands sets the priest apart from the world, yet the now sacred man is to remain active in the world as a celibate; it is a modern-day ceremony of medieval knighthood. The candidate has initiated his journey to priesthood by being tonsured, the ancient roman haircut (think bald spot on Friar Tuck in Robin Hood movies) signifying a slave-fo-life. Minor orders followed Tonsure, being by name and quite meaningless, Lector (and after Vatican Two have we not many of them today at Sunday masses), Portor (door keeper), Exorsist (devils beware), and Acolyte (I was one from 5th grade). I have no doubt that I was ordained to be a sacramental/mass priest whereas today there are other titles (next week) given by Rome that are jealously guarded.
The issue of women priests is open for historical investigation and surely today is a burr in Rome's saddle that warrants discussion and study, matters that Rome foolishly forbids. In 1942 when I went to seminary at age 13 the bishop had records of my being VIR BAPTIZATUS (baptized male); in 1942 they lined up 55 of us kids in the infirmary and having lowered our pants and underware Dr. Primo actually handled the genitals of each, proclaiming each VIR, male that is. Today they would be arrested for child abuse. They made sure my Mom and Dad were married in the church and that I had no physical defects, such as a missing finger (so that people going to communion would not be upset by the disfigurement); like Michelangelo they thought they would sculpture the perfect priest, modeled after their version of Jesus. Harkening back to the permanent brand on a Roman Legionnaire's arm The Baltimore Catechism taught that an indelible mark was made on the priest's soul … a priest forever! Modern day bishops have twisted up this theology to meet their own ends.
PS: I have added a bit of humor throughout to keep myself from falling asleep and being bored as I recheck the old-time approach to church officium. I enjoy recalling how Jesus handled his followers when they sought to be top gun and I remember the call of the Irish pastor who said the only thing left is to give the priesthood of Trent a decent burial … sic transit gloria mundi … and the French Foreign Legion also disappeared!
Tom McMahon, San Jose, Ca., 05/03/08.
NEXT WEEK: A continuation of ranks in the priesthood and the problems Rome caused when they began to use such terms as CANONICAL PASTOR and how long can priestly officum survive in modernity?
NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part VII
What are your thoughts on this commentary?