Monday, March 22, 2010

Leadership in the Church

My post about the Pope's letter to the Catholics of Ireland stirred up some interesting comments. One, I think, really cuts to the chase: Nancy Christine raises the question of the human leadership of the Church.  Why should we accept the role of bishops and a hierarchically ordered Church in the first place?
Bottom line is, why on earth did Jesus leave human beings "in charge" of his Church on earth? Wasn't that God's worst idea ever? (If He didn't think so at the start, surely the accumulated evidence must have led Him by now to admit it...) Why doesn't God just guide us himself, directly, and without human intermediaries?
The Gospels make it pretty clear that, good idea or not, this is what the Lord did. The very early history of the Church shows how, from the start, the Church operated hierarchically. (Pope Clement's letter to the Corinthians, for example, makes that pretty clear--why else would a bishop of Rome write to another apostolic Church--when a living Apostle, St. John, was way closer, in Ephesus, and presumably able to deal with the issue of those recalcitrant Corinthians?) And 2,000 years of history show that it hasn't been all bad. But there's been enough bad for the question to stay in the back of most people's minds, to pop up when things get really hairy.

Interestingly, just last night I read a relevant suggestion, from my favorite theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar. Von Balthasar proposed that since the Garden of Eden, mankind has rejected the direct, immediate Lordship of God. The book paraphrases von B: "Man, who was unwilling to obey his Creator, because he himself wanted to be like God, must now obey a man, if he wants to have--by grace--a share in the divine nature." It's a paradoxical way of repairing the ultimate breach, and not one any of us would automatically come to. But it also comes with a promise, likewise paradoxical, given the serious offenses we are looking at right now. Somehow, "the gates of hell will not hold out against" the Kingdom, whose keys are in Peter's hands.

The book I am reading is Light and Shadows: Church History amid Faith, Fact and Legend (Book review) by Walter Brandmuller.

1 comment:

Darryl Tymchuk said...
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