Monday, October 22, 2012

Vatican II at Fifty: One Deacon's Reflection

The following was written last week, but only posted now because of technical difficulties.

October 11, Vatican City: 1962, 2012

I apologize for not being an active blogger since last July, but what better time to start up again than today, the fiftieth anniversary of the Solemn Opening of the Second Vatican Council?  Through the generosity of my bishop and my university, I am here in Rome as I write this reflection.  I am here primarily to attend meetings related to our new St. Lawrence Institute here in Rome; a marvelous coincidence of events put us here for this grand celebration surrounding Vatican II and the initiation of a Year of Faith for the New Evangelization.

It will take many years, probably the rest of my life, to reflect fully on this day.  This is but a poor initial attempt.

First, a word about the cassock I am wearing in this photograph, for those who might be interested/curious/upset/confused/angry/offended!  The communication with the Holy See about those of us who were to assist with the liturgy was, to say the least, confusing.  One day we'd get an e-mail that said to bring no special attire or vestments at all.  Then the next day, we would be told to bring cassocks (sottani), and then the next day, we were to bring albs only.  And around it went.  So, finally, I brought a cassock and an alb. Tonight, I was still in it from earlier.  More about THAT in a moment as well.  And for those who still are confused: what I'm wearing is CLERICAL attire, not simply PRIESTLY attire.  Since deacons are clergy, it's OK.  Not something I want to do every day, but somehow it seemed to fit here and at this celebration.

This morning's papal Mass was exciting of course.  We were told to be at the altar at 8:00 AM for a final rehearsal.  I was part of a team of 12 deacons who were going to distribute communion to the cardinal/bishop concelebrants.  There were dozens of other priests and deacons who distributed communion to the non-concelebrating priests and bishops and deacons and the faithful.  The rehearsal went well and we were taken to a special sacristy where the 12 of us were to vest along with all the Cardinals.  The bishop-concelebrants vested in another sacristy.  Why they put us with the Cardinals is a Vatican mystery.  I spoke briefly to Cardinal Rigali before vesting.  I didn't see Cardinal Dolan until later.  Then, personal disappointment struck.  It seems that the only dalmatics they had for the 12 of us were very, VERY short ones.  So short, in fact, that when I put mine on, it looked like a surplice, not a dalmatic.  The Franciscan priest who is the head Sacristan scurried around trying to find something else, but in that style there was nothing, so two of us tall guys had to drop out of the group. I was given a good seat among the bishops and priests just to the side of the papal altar, however, so I was able to see what was going on.  I would have loved to assist, of course, but that was a personal disappointment that in the grand scheme of things just doesn't matter.

Some general observations, and these are just mine.  I haven't read or seen any press accounts yet so I don't know what else has been said.  First, during the whole run-up to this event, the correspondence has focused on this Mass as the beginning of the Year of Faith for the New Evangelization.  Almost no mention whatsoever was made about this being the golden anniverary of Vatican II.  As an Italian friend put it, "Many here don't really want to focus on the Council."  Yesterday, before our first rehearsal, I spoke with some of the pilgrims who had come, and it was clear how much work remains to be done.  One lady asked me, as she entered St. Peter's Basilica, what all the preparations were for. I explained that the pope was going to have a big celebration today,  "Oh," she said, "does the pope say Mass in this church?"  Still another pilgrim asked what the big Mass was going to be for, I responded that it was to commemorate the beginning of Vatican II.  "What's that?", he asked, and then laughing at his own wit, he continued, "so there was a Vatican I sometime, huh?"  For these folks, the Basilica was simply an interesting sight to see on vacation without any particular connection to their daily lives.  And certainly, Vatican II had no more meaning for them than any other distant event of history.

Today, however, the Pope, in his homily, spoke warmly of the Council, as did Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew.  Another connection to the Council came at the end of the Mass.  First, a bit of history.  On December 8, 1965, at the solemn closing of the Council, a series of "Messages" were given from the Council Fathers to various groups of people: to statesmen and politicians, to artists, to young people, to medical professionals, to workers, and so on.  At that time, these messages were given by various Council Fathers, and they were presented in French.  All of this was to communicate that the messages were coming from all of the Council Fathers and that they were intended for wide distribution; French at that time was considered the language of international communication and diplomacy, a kind of "universal" language.  At today's Mass, the Pope invited up representatives from each of these same groups and presented a souvenir copy of the original messages.  Curiously, I thought, however, the souvenir copy was printed only in Latin and in Italian, not in the original French.  I admit that I was somewhat disappointed by this, since it seems to miss the "universal" intent of the messages themselves.  Still, it was a nice nod to the Council.

However, there was another aspect of the Mass which I found even more disconcerting.  On the upper platform were hundreds of bishops and Cardinals, priests and deacons; two choirs, multiple Masters of Ceremonies: all of the pomp and ceremony one could expect at a papal Mass.  About halfway through the Mass, however, I turned to look at the rest of St. Peter's Square and I was struck by the fact that there seemed to be almost no one there.  Using the famous obelisk as a reference point, it was clear that the crowd in the Square didn't even come close to extending that far.  The impression from where I was sitting was that, essentially, the Square was empty.  Given the fact that this was the occasion being used to inaugurate a Year of Faith dedicated to the New Evangelization, the relative emptiness of the Square seemed to emphasize both the lack of "connectedness" the average person has for the institutional dimensions of Church today.  Obviously it also highlighted the need for the Church to find more powerful ways to reach out and to connect with the everyday lives of people.  That was the whole point of the Council fifty years ago, and it remains as vital a mission today!

After Mass, my two friends and I agreed upon where we would meet later in the day for supper and planning for our meetings the next day.  So, for supper (cena) we met at a little place a few hundred years from St. Peter's.  We then decided to walk over to the Square and see what was going on.  What was going on was remarkable.  But first, some more history.

Fifty years ago, one the opening night of the Council, thousands upon thousands of people came to St. Peter's Square to pray for the success of the Council.  I'm attaching a link here so you can watch it.  It was a stunning sight, to say the least!  If you look at the video closely, you will see that the crowd not only fills the entire Square: it looks like it reaches back to the Tiber!  And then, the best bit: Pope John XXIII comes to his window and addresses the crowd.  He speaks of the moon looking down on this wonderful spectacle, so his remarks are sometimes referred to as the "Discourse to the Moon" ("discorso della Luna") or similar titles.  At the end, he tells everyone to go home and to embrace their children, and to tell the children that this embrace is from the Pope.  For people who were there, this event was one of the most significant of their lives.

Now, fifty years later, my friends and I walked into the Square and it was full of people, many carrying candles, singing songs and praying.  It wasn't nearly as large as that original crowd fifty years ago, but it was still a stunning sight.  As "empty" as the Square had seemed that morning was contrasted vividly by how full it was tonight.  HERE and NOW the Church was connecting with people.  Sure enough, the light in the papal apartment was lit, and at 9:00 PM Rome time, Pope Benedict appeared at the window.  He recalled Pope John's famous remarks, and the crowd roared its appreciation of that memory.

Leaving the Square tonight, I was left with a feeling that this desire for connectedness is the heart of what we seek in our understanding of communio and evangelization.  The whole point of Vatican II was to serve as an act of evangelization, and Pope Paul VI himself referred to the Council as "the great Catechism of our day."  The "New Evangelization" is not really so new; it is, and remains, the perpetual mission of the Church since Pentecost: to offer Christ to a world in pain in the Spirit of God who loves, sustains and provides for us.

For now, I've rambled long enough.  More soon.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Council, Conscience, War and Birth Control: One Faded Memory UPDATED

I have written extensively about the connections between the Second World War and the Second Vatican Council.  Many people assume that, since the Council took place from 1962-1965, the Council was about the world of the 1960s.  A friend of mine once remarked that he remembered the Second Vatican Council.  "That was when the Catholic Church," he said, "sold out to the Beatles!"  The truth, however, is much more complex.  After all, as the Council opened in 1962, the Second World War had been over less than twenty years.  One can ask: If a 62-year old French bishop was processing into St. Peter's on 11 October 1962, where had he been twenty years before, in 1942?  What would he have experienced as a teen and young man during the First World War and the rise of, eventually, three totalitarian regimes, a second World War, the Holocaust, the advent of the nuclear age and the Cold War?  And how might that experience have affected what he did at the Council?

UPDATE: I am indebted to Helen McDevitt-Smith for acquainting me with one such bishop: Pierre Francois Lucien Anatole Boillon, Bishop of the Diocese of Verdun, France. 

Pierre was born in 1911, and was ordained a priest in 1935.  In 1962, at the age of 51, he was ordained a bishop less than a month before the opening of the Council.  He served first as an auxiliary bishop of Verdun, and then became the diocesan bishop of Verdun from 1963 until his retirement in 1986; he returned to the Lord in 1996.  But what about those all-important years between 1935 to 1945?

Young Father Boillon served, as did many priests, in the French Resistance.  So it would come as no surprise to find out that in 1965, as the Council Fathers were debating issues related to war and peace for Gaudium et spes, Bishop Boillon rose to speak strongly in favor of total military disarmament; he had seen the horrors of war first-hand.  But there's more to this story.

After the Council, Bishop Boillon continued his work as Bishop of Verdun and the implementation of the Council.  His name turns up again in a remarkable account of the French bishops' conference and their 1968 response to Pope Paul VI's famous encyclical Humanae Vitae ("On Human Life"), which had just been promulgated.  Here's a link to an archived article on the topic.  It gives us many things to consider prayerfully, and shows the complex relationships involved.  Some highlights:

"Vatican officials expressed appreciation this week of the 'deep spirit of charity' contained in the statement on birth control with the French bishops issued last Friday.  The 120 members of the French episcopate said in their statement that although contraception was always  'disorder,' it need not imply moral guilt on the part of married couples who practiced it.  This was a matter for the couples to decide themselves after serious reflection before God."

Bishop Boillon of Verdun served as the spokesman of the French episcopal conference in presenting this statement to the press.  He explained that "a Catholic who felt compelled to use artificial means of birth control need not confess it to a priest and could take communion with a clear conscience."  In attempting to balance the duties of marriage and the teachings of the Church, the French bishops wrote that "a couple must prayerfully decide which duty took precedence."  They continued that "contraception can never be good.  It is always a disorder but this disorder is not always guilty."

It is here where Bishop Boillon draws on his own wartime experience.   "I killed four Germans," he said.  "I try to justify myself before God, but I did not accuse myself at confession of a sin.  I had a conflict of duty between the duty of defending my country and that of respecting human life.  Killing those Germans was evil but not a sin."

I find much here that is profitable for our reflection today.  Among other things, the statement of the French bishops accurately presents the role of conscience and the formation of conscience required by every individual.  It also respects that each individual must ultimately form that conscience himself or herself; no one can do it for another.  As the Council itself taught, the conscience is a "crucible" in which a person is alone with God.  The French bishops respect this religious freedom and responsibility.

The recognition that in life a person can be faced by competing "goods" ("duties") which require hard choices is also refreshing.  At least in my own pastoral experience, most people do not set out to do bad things; they are, rather, trying to do their best in often extraordinarily difficult circumstances.  While seeing things in black-and-white can seem to make human choices seem simple, life is far more often lived in various shades of gray.

This account, to me, captures much of the wonderful complexity that is reflected in the Second Vatican Council and the very human bishops who struggled with the extraordinarily difficult tasks facing the church and world.

As I researched more of this story, I was reminded of a powerful scene from the 1968 move, "The Shoes of the Fisherman," with Anthony Quinn playing a former bishop-prisoner in a Siberian gulag who is elected Pope.  In this scene, his character speaks of the moral tightrope we all must walk.  Given Bishop Boillon's own account, perhaps this is not as fictional as one might originally have thought.  Regardless, it is worthy of great reflection. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Women and the Diaconate: Part II

After my last posting on women and the diaconate, the conversation on Deacon Greg Kandra's Facebook page continued, and I received several interesting e-mails.

1) One deacon observed that "We've had this discussion for a few years now, although Phoebe is mentioned by name, I would like to draw attention to the following; many have stated that Rome hasn't spoken clearly on this subject, yet it seems to me, that they have clearly spoken "men" for ordination. . . ."  He then recounts the facts surrounding Vatican II's renewal of the diaconate.  And yet, for all of the quotations he offers, none really applies to the specific question of the admission of women to the diaconate.  All of the citations could just as easily and appropriately apply to women as well as men.  The fact that the current renewal has not yet included women is not alone dispositive.  After all, prior to 1967, there hadn't been a married deacon in centuries as well in the Latin Church!  I would also point out that the Canon Law Society of America, in 1985, examined this question and determined that there were no major canonical issues that couldn't be rather easily revised if the Church were to decide to ordain women as deacons.  In other words, just because we're not doing something right now doesn't necessarily mean that we might not do something in the future.

As I have said many times elsewhere, we MUST keep the question of the possibility of ordaining women as deacons quite distinct from the question of ordaining women as presbyters.  WHY?  Well, one major reason is that the Holy Father, both now and in his previous ministry as Prefect of the CDF, has done precisely that!  So, it's not helpful for people to get all excited about this question by somehow equating all three orders.  Prior to the renewal of the diaconate as a permanent order, a neo-Scholastic understanding of the Sacrament of Order might have seen things that way, but the renewal of the diaconate has signaled a paradigm shift in understanding.  And the church has been refining this new understanding over the last twenty or so years and this is evident in changes made to the catechism and subsequent documents (detailed in our book on women deacons).

 2) Deacon Jim, the original "commenter" I referenced in my last blog post, offered a number of further observations.  He clarified that he had not been using the term "definitively" in the technical sense used by theologians.  He also wrote that "it seems arbitrary to make the claim that, of all the uses of 'diakonos' by Paul or others in the NT, that in Phoebe's particular case (but not in any other), it has to mean 'ordained deacon'."  Another friend also wrote in an e-mail, concerning Phoebe, that "When it comes to Romans 16:1 it became clear that whether or not the particular scholar saw it as evidence for the female diaconate, it was not clear what the term "deacon" in this context referred to holding an ecclesial office. Most noted that it was likely too early to attribute to her an established office in the Church, let alone one received by ordination."  I couldn't agree more with both comments!  Let me explain.

St. Paul refers to "our sister Phoebe" as deacon of the Church of Cenchraeae.  Period.  We have absolutely no clue what being "deacon of the Church of Cenchraeae" meant in her day.  What's more, we have no clue HOW she received that designation; was it simply something bestowed on her in Paul's letter?  Some kind of ritual acknowledgment?  We have no idea.  Nada.  Zilch.  I get that, and I accept it fully.  I know of no one who would seriously suggest otherwise.  On the other hand, however, there is something going on with Paul's use of the word.  I can't believe that Paul, whose first language was Greek, somehow screwed up the grammar with the sentence; therefore, his attribution of a "title" of "diakonos" must have meant SOMETHING, and the fact is, whatever it meant, it went beyond some generic kind of "service", since that ought to have been rendered more accurately with a more generic attribution, such as "diakonissa."  So, while we don't know any specifics, we can tell that it was something special, using a "title" that had acquired some kind of technical meaning in Paul's usage (as found in other correspondence).

Deacon Jim also points out the various other ministers who are apparently referred to as "deacons".  The problem, as he correctly points out, is with the language of translation.  In the case of Phoebe, we have a masculine form of the "title" being used with a woman; it is a rather glaring use of the language.  With the men being referred to has "deacon" the challenge is greater, since it could be that the word is being used as a title of ministry, but it could be used in the more generic sense of "assistant" or "servant" without any reference to ecclesial ministry.  This is because it is a masculine form of the word being used to describe males, so we have to let the context help us a bit.  Perhaps some of these men were "deacons"; then again, they might simply be assisting in some other capacity.

3)  Deacon Jim also writes that "any claim that the Seven are somehow separate from Deacons seems, in my view, to be as weak as claims against the 'Trinity' as being Scriptural since the word 'Trinity' isn't used, say, at the Annunciation, or the Baptism of the Lord. If the 'Seven' aren't deacons, what are they? If Philip isn't a Deacon, what is he?"

Again, my earlier concern is that people be quite clear on what sources we're relying on for our information.  Many people honestly don't realize that scripture itself does not allude to Stephen and the rest of the Seven as deacons.  As I've said before, we Catholics do not hold a sola scriptura understanding of Divine Revelation, seeing the Revelation of God coming to us both through Scripture and from Tradition.  So, while scripture itself is silent on the whole Seven-as-Deacons idea, Tradition since the time of Irenaeus HAS seen the Seven as coming to represent the diaconal order.  I have no problem with that; we simply need to be careful in how we make our assertions.  In other words, SCRIPTURE doesn't make the claim here; Tradition does.  That's an important distinction for scholars and anyone else interested in the matter.

Now, as to Jim's questions, "If the Seven aren't deacons, what are they?  If Philip isn't a Deacon, what is he?" let's consider.  FROM SCRIPTURE, we can tell nothing about "what" they are.  For example, I have done some research into Second Temple Judaism, and there are some talmudic sources that suggest that each synagogue had a "board" of persons who were responsible for the charitable outreach of the synagogue, and quite often this "board" consisted of seven persons.  Could Peter have been asking those Greek-speaking Christians of Jerusalem simply to use the existing Jewish model for service?  We don't know, but what we DO know is that Luke -- who would have been familiar with the term "diakonos" and "diakonoi" in the technical sense -- chose NOT to use that term vis-a-vis the Seven.  It's also interesting, of course, that while Peter says that he wants the Seven to take care of the "daily distribution" so that the Twelve can take care of preaching the Good News, the only actual ministry we see two of the Seven doing (Stephen and Philip) is preaching and catechizing!  (I often remind deacon candidates that they should remember that Stephen was martyred precisely because of his powerful preaching, and they should expect no less!)  What we do know about the Seven FROM SCRIPTURE is this: they were picked from among their own community, were of good repute and filled with the Holy Spirit, and they were ordained (hands were laid upon them by the Apostles) into ministry.  As I wrote above, later Tradition will describe that ordination as diaconal.

Why do I persist in making this distinction?  I have encountered some people over the years who would like to say that contemporary deacons should only do what we see the "deacons" in scripture doing.  The problem is that we don't really know WHAT the deacons of scripture were doing, and trying to limit ministry to such scant evidence would not be helpful.  Imagine if we tried to suggest that limitation on presbyters or bishops!  But that's something for a different post.

I have delayed putting this post up, because I have reviewed so many previous posts on this subject and it seems like so much of the material -- both the objections to the question, and my responses -- is simply repetitive.  Many things have changed over the last couple of decades with regard to church teaching as well as historical and theological research on the matter, so I strongly recommend that this later material (starting with church teaching itself!) be studied carefully.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Debate Continues: Women and Diaconate

Let me start with one preliminary observation: There are numerous unresolved issues related to a contemporary theology of the renewed order of deacons in the Church today; the ordination of women as deacons is simply one of those issues.  In my own research, writing and teaching on the diaconate, I have not focused exclusively on this issue, feeling that other fundamental matters needed to be attended to first.  However, the question of ordaining women as deacons can help us address issues related to the nature of diaconal ministry today.  And, for full disclosure, I have had the pleasure of looking into this issue with more intensity as one of the authors of Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future with Gary Macy and Phyllis Zagano.

The new Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), now-Archbishop (soon-to-be Cardinal) Gerhard Ludwig Mueller has written on the diaconate and priesthood, as well as participating as a theologian on the International Theological Commission (ITC), which developed a paper on the diaconate.  Ten years ago, he was interviewed on this question as part of that effort, and that is available here. I would observe, and will detail below, that much has happened SINCE that interview which would lead me to question whether he would still hold some of the same views today. 

I bring all this up because the mention of Mueller's decade-old interview sparked quite a debate over on Deacon Greg Kandra's Facebook page, and some points were made there that I think need to be addressed.  One of the comments made was the following:
"The all-male diaconate definitively and historically emerges from the ministry of the apostles in Acts. Just as Jesus did with the Twelve, the Apostles do with the "Seven"--both excluding women. I would suggest reading our new Prefect's book "Priesthood and Diaconate" as well as Martimort's "Deaconesses" for the historical context that makes clear that, while the Church ordained "deaconesses" as a separate "order" in the Church, the order of deaconesses was never viewed as a participation in the Sacrament of Holy Orders any more than other orders were (porter, lector, acolyte, etc). While there has been no contemporary clarification that women cannot be deacons (though they obviously *can* be deaconesses if that "order" is ever restored), the history/practice on this point is explicit both in Scripture and Tradition."
1) The claim is made that an all male diaconate "definitively and historically" is grounded in Acts 6-8 and the selection of the Seven.  The commenter later admits that a separate group known as "deaconesses" existed later, although not on a sacramental par with male deacons (more about that later).  However, on this first point I'm concerned about the terms "definitively" and "historically," especially based on a reading of Acts.  Scripture alone cannot sustain this claim, since the passage does not explicitly refer to the Seven as "deacons."  Certainly scripture knows of deacons (one need only turn to the letters of Paul and the pastoral epistles to find that evidence), but Luke does not refer to the Seven as deacons.  It is later Tradition (at least 200 years later) that begins to refer to Stephen and his "classmates" as the first deacons.  (In fact, the only deacon referred to by name in the New Testament is actually Phoebe, who is referred to as deacon -- not by the feminine form diakonissa, but by the masculine form diakonos, leading some scholars to suggest that "deacon" has already emerged as the title of a particular office in the ancient Church.)  So, I would be very hesitant to attach a "males only" argument simply to the passage from Acts, especially using terms such as "definitively" and "historically."

2) The fact is, the Church has never spoken "definitively" on the subject of the ordination of women as deacons.  The term "definitive" was applied to the question of ordaining women to the PRESBYTERATE by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, but that is a question distinct from the diaconate.  I would also point out that the working document released by the ITC (with Mueller as a member) also agreed that the Church has not yet spoken definitively on the subject, and that "it pertains to the Church's ministry of discernment" to address the matter.

3) The commenter suggests that people read Mueller's text on Priesthood and Diaconate as well as Martimort's work Deaconesses.  That's good advice, but incomplete.  First, Martimort was not writing in a vacuum.  He was engaged in an extended scholarly debate with Roger Gryson, who took an opposing view of the same historical evidence; so, I would encourage people to read BOTH men and analyze their arguments.  Second, this debate took place in the 1970's, and the historical record has been greatly augmented by more recent research, both in Eastern and Western sources.  Simply put, we have more historical data to consider today than those two scholars did.

4) Mueller and Martimort would agree that women were commissioned/installed/ordained as "deaconesses" but that this role was not sacramentally equal to that of male deacons, nor was their ministry on a par with male deacons.  The argument was that such women were installed to provide ministry to other women.  However, the historical record reveals that there is considerable variety in the roles "deaconesses" and "women deacons" (sometimes these terms are used equivalently, sometimes not) actually played in various cultures and places.  Furthermore, recent study of ordination rituals indicates that some women were ordained WITHIN the sanctuary (as contrasted with blessings and installations which took place OUTSIDE the sanctuary), with the laying on of hands by the bishop, and even -- in some cases -- the use of the exact same prayer of consecration used for both male and female deacons.  I am not suggesting that this practice was universally followed; but I am saying that it did take place alongside the historical practice alluded to by Martimort and Mueller.  Any attempt to justify one practice or another is methodologically and historically incomplete, since all of these practices were done, and there was great diversity of understanding and practice.

5) Mueller and others often argue for the "unicity" of the Sacrament of Order, so that what applies to one order applies to the others.  Certainly we all agree that there is but one Sacrament of Order (now described as the orders of deacon, presbyter and bishop, although until 1972 the sacrament included subdeacon (a major order), and the minor orders of porter, lector, exorcist and acolyte), the way these orders relate to one another has received considerable official attention over the last 20 years or so.  The result of this work, led largely by then-Cardinal Ratzinger while he was Prefect of the CDF, has been to develop the notion of two modes of participation within the one Sacrament of Order.  Namely, there is the diaconal mode of participation and the priestly mode of participation which is shared by presbyters and bishops.  "Priests" (presbyters and bishops), we are told, "receive sacred power to act in the person of Christ the Head," while deacons "receive a special strength [vigor specialis] to serve the People of God" in a ministry of Word, Sacrament and Charity.  Such distinctions within the one Sacrament of Order are quite helpful in overcoming the sense that the diaconate is simply an abridged, or lesser, form of the priesthood itself.   The image I often use in teaching on this subject is that of a teeter-totter: one the one hand, there is the unicity of Order; on the other is the diversity within the Order.  In my own theological opinion, one must keep the teeter-totter balanced.  If we go too far to the side of unicity, we lose the inherent communio of the Order; if we go too far to the side of diversity, we risk creating two or three separate sacraments.  According to other members of the ITC, then-Father Mueller and his colleagues engaged in quite interesting debates during their sessions!

6) Finally, I would simply caution against "elevating" Archbishop Mueller's theological judgments now that he is Prefect of the CDF.  Just as the pope himself continues to publish his own personal theological research under the name "Joseph Ratzinger" -- realizing that his function as theologian is quite distinct from his role as the Pope -- so, too, must we continue to distinguish what "Gerhard Mueller's" own theological research might support contrasted to positions he may take as Prefect of the CDF.

In conclusion, I would simply affirm the official position of the Church: that the question of ordaining women as deacons remains -- according to papal and curial pronouncements -- an unresolved question, and the call to continue "the Church's ministry of discernment" on the question is ongoing.

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Comment on Comments

Gentle readers,

I have decided to join my blogging friends, like Deacon Greg Kandra, who do not have a "comments" section on their blogs.  Let me explain this decision.

I'm a teacher, and I thrive on the give-and-take of the classroom.  However, I find that here on the blog I have a tendency to want to respond and reply to each and every comment, and there's simply insufficient time and energy to do that.

So, if any of my reflections inspire comments, corrections, or uncontrollable rage, feel free to e-mail me off-line.

Thanks for understanding!

God bless,
Deacon Bill

Thursday, June 28, 2012

On "Magisterium": Who or What? UPDATED

One of the most misunderstood and misused words associated with the Church is the Latin term magisterium.  If a quick survey of certain web sites is any indication, many people seem to think that magisterium is a "who": the Pope, for example, or the Pope and the world's bishops, or the Pope and the curia in Rome.  Actually, this is not accurate.  Magisterium, linguistically, is a neuter noun; it is a "what", not a "who."  It is "the teaching authority of the Church."  And, as we all know, "the Church" is more than its episcopal leadership.  Let's consider a few basics.

Why do we claim any sort of teaching authority at all?  It seems rather presumptuous to think that we human beings can teach with authority about spiritual matters.  Remember that this was shocking to some of Jesus' own listeners, when they observed that "this man teaches with authority."  Magisterium is founded on the promise of Christ that the Holy Spirit will remain present and active in the community of disciples.  Consider John 14:26:  "The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name -- he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you."  It is the Holy Spirit who teaches, no human authority.

The Holy Spirit is given to everyone at Baptism, and indeed, through all of the sacramental life of the Church.  In the Middle Ages a distinction was introduced between the ecclesia docens (the teaching Church) and the ecclesia discens (the learning Church).  However, of course, all of us participate, in a variety of degrees, in the one and the same teaching-and-learning Church.  The role of the ordained is often highlighted.  Vatican II spoke of the teaching role of bishops and presbyters as their primary obligation (the primum officium); subsequent documents have extended this as well to the renewed (permanent) diaconate as well.  While one can sometimes read (usually in very derogatory terms) that others are claiming magisterial authority as well (consider some recent nasty blog posts about "the magisterium of the nuns" when criticizing the LCWR, for example), the medieval Church DID extend its understanding of magisterium beyond the bishops themselves.  No less a theological giant than Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century, wrote of the magisterium of university theologians; at the great Council of Trent in the 16th Century, and at Councils before that, the theological experts were often given a vote on conciliar texts!  Trent, for example, referred to the theologians as minor theologians and the bishops as major theologians.  Some votes included them all; some were restricted to the bishops alone.

UPDATE:  After my initial post, I was doing some research on Blessed John XXIII's opening address o the world's bishops at the Second Vatican Council.  I was struck by how he used the term magisterium, clearly using it the term accurately, and in the way we all used to use it until relatively recently.  Look at how he introduces the term at the beginning of his address:

In calling this vast assembly of bishops, the latest and humble successor to the Prince of the Apostles who is addressing you intended to assert once again the magisterium, which is unfailing and perdures until the end of time, in order that this magisterium, taking into account the errors, requirements and opportunities of our time, might be presented in exceptional form to all people throughout the world.

Clearly, the pope is not referring to the college of bishops, with pope at the head of that college.  Here's another wonderful example.  The pope turns his attention to the previous 20 ecumenical (general) councils of the Church:

Ecumenical Councils, whenever they are assembled, are a solemn celebration of the union of Christ and His Church, and hence lead to the universal radiation of truth, to the proper guidance of individuals in domestic and social life, to the strengthening of spiritual energies for a perennial uplift toward real and everlasting goodness.  The testimony of this extraordinary magisterium of the Church in the succeeding epochs of these twenty centuries of Christian history stands before us collected in numerous and imposing volumes, which are the sacred patrimony of our ecclesiastical archives, here in Rome and in the more noted libraries of the entire world.
Finally, consider this famous passage:

The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character.
"Good Pope John" (as the Italians still refer to him) shows us the proper understanding of this very complex term.

We are all expected to "follow the magisterium of the Church."  But this means so much more than simple obedience to the institutional structure of the external Church!  After all, bishops alone are not given full knowledge of all religious Truth simply by virtue of their ordination as bishops!  Like everyone else, they too grow "in wisdom, age and grace."  "Following the magisterium" is not some kind of loyalty test; it means being attuned to the full "teaching office" found within the entire People of God, great and small.