Monday, 20 April 2015

Discerning the signs of the times: ressourcement not 'stale expressions'

In his First Things column last week, George Weigel noted of John Henry Newman's influence on Vatican II, "the Council’s efforts to retrieve the wisdom of the Church Fathers and the great medieval doctors was presaged in Newman’s own work, going back to his Anglican days".  He then quoted from Ian Ker's Newman and Vatican II:

A century before the theological revival that came to be known as the nouvelle theologie began in France in the 1930s, Newman and his fellow Tractarians in the Oxford Movement were already seeking to return to the sources of Christianity in the writings of the Fathers.

In his excellent Liturgy as Revelation: Re-Sourcing as a Theme in Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology, Philip Cadwell situates the Tractarians in a wider Western European ecclesial renewal that had its roots in a cultural context provided by Romanticism.  The 1830s witnessed liturgical and sacramental revival amongst Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and German and Danish Lutherans.  Cadwell invokes J.F. White's study:

The generally accepted launching of the liturgical movement was the formation of a new Benedictine community at Solesmes, France, by Prosper Gueranger in 1833.  The timing was significant.  John Henry Newman marked the beginning of the Oxford Movement as a sermon preached by John Keble on July 14, 1833 ... In Bavaria, Wilhelm Loehe began a long pastorate in Neuendetteslau in 1837, devoted to making frequent confession and communion a reality among Lutherans.  Nikolai S. Grundtvig led a sacramental revival in the Lutheran church of Denmark ... Something dynamic was in the atmosphere worldwide in the 1830s.

Cadwell himself states:

Tempered by a certain scientific rigor, the product of both a scholastic and a rationalist heritage, nineteenth-century theology welcomed feeling, dynamism, and imagination.

He goes on to describe Gueranger, initiating the liturgical movement through the Benedictine community at Solesmes, as seeking "to revive monasticism, to place the liturgy at its center, and to rediscover a medieval simplicity".

Key to all this is that ressourcement as a force for ecclesial renewal, was encouraged and facilitated by a particular cultural context - Romanticism.  Indeed, Nockle's study of the Oxford Movement describes Tractarianism as the "churching of Romanticism", "harnessing the force of Romanticism".

All of which might raise the question, 'is a similar cultural context now emerging'?  Think in particular of the growing body of opinion which considers that Millennials are particularly open to experiences of the Christian faith grounded in sacramentality, mystery, 'strangeness'.  Rachel Held Evans' 'Why Millennials Need the Church' obviously springs to mind, as does Gracy Olmstead's 'Why Millennials Long for Liturgy'. Anglican reflection on how Millenials respond to Evensong and Compline, both in the UK and US, is also suggestive.  Timothy O'Malley of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy has provided important reflection from a Roman Catholic perspective (and, in particular, see his Liturgy and the New Evangelization).

In Olmstead's words, "this trend is deeper than denominational waffling: it’s a search for meaning that goes to the heart of our postmodern age".  Nor is this a passing trend.  In a collection of essays, published in 2000, to explore the formation of GenX priests in TEC - Gathering the NeXt Generation - Mthr Beth Maynard, now a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield, wrote:

Postmodernism has also led us to assume the reality of the spiritual, so that we are usually drawn in, not repelled, by mystery and the numinous - as long as it doesn't come off an manipulative.

Thus our current culture can find ancient, explicitly Christ-centred expressions of theology and liturgy strikingly relevant and fascinating. 

From the perspective of British and Irish Anglicans, this explains the ressourcement presently underway -  the significance of Radical Orthodoxy, movements like Anglican Catholic Future and the Society of Mary, Mother of Priests, the growth witnessed over the last decade by CofE cathedrals (in the words of John Milbank, "the highly traditional and largely High Church cathedrals are the greatest success story in British Christianity"), and the re-emergence of the practices of pilgrimage and retreat.

In the midst of growing secularisation across Europe, it is to such movements that the Church can look to - and encourage - as expressions of hope.  Rather than passing trends, they possess the potential of speaking meaningfully to our cultural context, just as the various liturgical and sacramental revivals of the 19th century spoke to a culture in which Romanticism sought meaning amidst the flattened, desiccated spiritual landscape created by Enlightenment rationalism.  Discerning the signs of the times, then, the Church can answer the longings of postmodernity for authenticity, transcendence, and hope - if, that is, we have ears to hear that sacramentality, mystery and 'strangeness' are what the seekers desire.  Ressourcement not 'stale expressions'.

(The poster is taken from The Sub-Dean's Stall, referring to Christ Church, New Haven, Connecticut.)

Saturday, 18 April 2015

An Eastertide mystagogy: community of Resurrection

During the Saturdays of Eastertide, a series of reflections - a form of mystagogy - will be posted. Based on the Acts reading of the coming Sunday, each will reflect on what it is for the Church to live as the authentic witness to the Resurrection.

The Acts reading for the Second Sunday of Easter is Acts 3:12-19. 

Mystagogical reflection: Community of Resurrection

During these Fridays in Eastertide we are reflecting on the Acts readings at the Eucharist of the coming Sunday.

These readings from Acts, the story of the early apostolic Church, let us see what it is for the Church to be an Easter people ...

To authentically confess and to be shaped by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

On the Third Sunday of Easter, the Acts reading recounts Peter's words before a crowd in the Jerusalem Temple after he had healed a lame beggar.

Peter declares that the lame beggar was healed by the One "whom God raised from the dead".

There is a quite stark and compelling parallel.

Here was a man lame from birth, required to beg outside the precincts of the Temple ...

Considered accursed for what was (wrongly) regarded as the double shame of disability and poverty.

Then there was Jesus who, Peter declares, was "handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate" ...

Then executed on the Cross, an instrument of shame and curse, outside the precincts of the city.

This Jesus is the One "whom God raised from the dead".

And the lame beggar?

Peter said to him, "In the name of Jesus Christ, stand up and walk".

He, like Jesus the Crucified, was "raised".

As Acts tells us: Peter "took him by the right hand and raised him up ...

(the same word used by Peter for Jesus' Resurrection) ...

and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God".

He experienced, in other words, Resurrection.

Delivered from shame and curse, he was restored to the joy of life in communion with the God who is Creator and Redeemer.

What is it to be the Easter people?

It is to be the people from whom Resurrection is a lived reality now ...

A lived reality as we encounter the Risen Christ in the life of the Church.

Now this means that we should gaze on that lame beggar with a look of recognition.

It means that as we gaze on him we should hear Jesus' words from the Gospels:

"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick".

And the Great Physician has confronted and overcome the dark, debiltating disease that is sin and death ...

The disease that wounds and incapacitates us all.

The lame beggar is us ...

Wounded, made lame by the sin that disorders our relationship with God and one another.

But the One who has fully shared our human nature, experiecing the bitterness of death and the darkness of the descent into hell ...

He it is "whom God [the Father] has raised from the dead".

And the lame beggars are able to share in His Resurrection.

It is in the Church's sacramental life that Resurrection becomes present reality for us.

When we pass through the waters of Baptism, new life in union with the Lord's Resurrection is bestowed upon us as free, unmerited gift [1].

When we partake of the Risen Lord's body and blood in the Eucharist, we are renewed in intimate union with the Risen One [2].

When hands are laid on us at Confirmation, the gift of the Spirit strengthens us as Easter people[3].

When we are absolved after confessing our sins, our story becomes that of the Prodigal, raised up by the Father's love [4].

When we are anointed with oil in sickness, our very fraility and mortality is imprinted with the likeness of Jesus' death and resurrection [5].

To be the Easter people, is to be a sacramental community who experience Resurrection now.

To be lame beggars who now walk, praise and rejoice - who offer eucharist, thanksgiving.

For Resurrection is not past event, to be politely acknowledged in the odd hymn or sermon.

Resurrection is the reality of Jesus Christ the Risen One really, truly present in the sacraments ...

Encountered by us, received by us, dwelling in us.

Irenaeus, a 2nd century bishop and teacher of the faith, referring to the Lord's Resurrection, spoke of its consequences for us:

"the flesh will be found capable of receiving and containing the power of God" [6].

And there is the scandalous grace that makes us the Easter people ...

Lame beggars who, through the Risen Lord present in his sacraments, receive and contain the power of God.
---------------------------

[1] " ... In baptism we die to sin and rise to newness of life in Christ": introduction to Holy Baptism in the Season of Easter, BCP 2004, p.393.

[2] " ... that we may be made one in your holy Church and partakers of the body and blood of your Son": from Eucharistic Prayer I, BCP 2004, p.211.

[3] " ... Grant that in the power of the same Holy Spirit they may continue to grow in the knowledge and likeness of Christ": prayer before the laying on of hands in Rite of Confirmation, BCP 2004, p.387.

[4] " ... by the ministry of reconciliation entrusted by Christ to his Church, receive his pardon and peace": absolution in 'A Celebration of Wholeness and Healing', BCP 2004, p.462.

[5] " ... your anointed Son took our nature and entered our suffering to bring your healing to those in weakness and distress": thanksgiving prayer over the Oil in 'A Celebration of Wholeness and Healing', BCP 2004, p.462.

[6] Irenaeus Adversus Haereses V, 3.2 quoted in Hans urs Von Balthasar The Scandal of the Incarnation: Irenaeus Against the Heresies, p.101.

Friday, 17 April 2015

"The power to absolve": Hooker, Trent and ministerial absolution

The sacred Scriptures show, and the tradition of the Catholic Church has always taught, that this priesthood was instituted by the same Lord our Saviour, and that to the apostles, and their successors in the priesthood, was the power delivered ... of forgiving and of retaining sins. 

Council of Trent, Session 23, Chpt. I

To conclude, we everywhere find the use of confession, especially public, allowed of, and commended by the Fathers, but that extreme and rigorous necessity of auricular and private confession, which is at this day so mightily upheld by the Church of Rome, we find not.

Hooker VI, 4.13

Note the care Hooker takes here.  "Especially public." "Extreme and rigorous necessity".  Auricular confession is not, of course, rejected by Hooker.  It is, he declares, neither "unlawful, or unprofitable" in the reformed ecclesia anglicana - although caution is required because of "these inconveniences, which the world has by experience observed" (4.15).

Private confession was, Hooker contends, not unknown in the patristic churches:

Were the Fathers then without use of private Confessoin, as long as public was in use?  I affirm no such thing (4.7).

He then quotes from Origen, Ambrose and Augustine, pointing to the early practice of private confession.  This provides the basis for his recognition of the pastoral significance of the practice:

Because the knowledge how to handles our own sores is no vulgar and common art, but we either carry towards ourselves for the most part an oversoft, and gentle hand, fearful of touching to near the quick, or else endeavouring not to be partial, we fall into timorous scrupulosities, and sometimes into those extreme discomforts of mind, from which we hardly do ever lift our heads again, men thought it the safest way to disclose their secret faults, and to crave imposition of penance from them, whom our Lord Jesus Christ has left in his Church, to be spiritual and ghostly Physicians, the guides and Pastors of redeemed souls, whose office does not only consist in general persuasions unto amendment of life, but also in the private particular care of diseased minds (4.7).

So what, then, of the practice of the reformed ecclesia anglicana?  Hooker affirms:

As for private Confession, and absolution, it stands thus with us.  The Minister's power to absolve is publicly taught and professed (4.15).

Yes, considering the abuses that had been evident in private confession, "the Church of England hitherto has thought it the safer way, to refer men's hidden crimes unto God and themselves only".  This is followed by a very considerable qualification:

Howbeit not without special caution for the admonition of such as come to the holy Sacrament, and for the comfort of such as are ready to depart the World.

Discussing the exercise of discipline regarding those who come to receive the Eucharist, Hooker points to the joy of private confession and absolution:

We have in the other part of penitential jurisdiction, in our power and authority to release sin, joy on all sides without trouble, or molestation unto any.  And if to give be a thing more blessed than to receive, are we not infinitely happier in being authorised to bestow the treasure of God, then when necessity does constrain to withdraw the same (4.15).

As for absolution for those "ready to depart the World", he says:

there are in the latest repentance oft-times the surest tokens of sincere dealing, therefore upon special confession made to the Minister of God, he presently absolveth in this case the sick party from all his sins, by that authority which Jesus Christ has committed unto him (4.15).

In his final reference to private confession and absolution, however, in chapter 4 of Book VI, Hooker moves beyond these two examples.  If, following confession of sins to God, "peace with God does not follow", he states:

if we continue disquieted and not delivered from anguish, mistrusting whether that we do be sufficient, it argues that our sore does exceed the power of our own skill: and that the wisdom of the Pastor must bind up those parts, which being bruised are not able to be cured of themselves (4.16).

In Book VI of the Lawes, Hooker contends against those in England seeking a 'more thorough Reformation' through, in this case, lay elders exercising ecclesiastical jurisdiction.  First rejecting the Tridentine insistence on the "extreme and rigorous necessity" of private confession, he then goes on to uphold against those promoting a lay eldership, the case for clergy who have received the indelible character of Order exercising such jurisdiction through the ministry of the keys.

His disagreements with Trent regarding private confession and absolution as a Sacrament, and the relationship between absolution and penitence, are clear.  What is equally clear, however, is his contention that bishops and priests have the power to absolve sins in the context of private confession.    This, he says, is particularly the case with those who regularly receive the Holy Eucharist, those approaching death, and 'disquieted' and 'bruised' souls.

We can therefore say that, with Trent, Hooker affirms "that to the apostles, and their successors in the priesthood, was the power delivered ... of forgiving and of retaining sins".  Note, too, that Hooker agrees with Trent in how to describe this authority: "power".  While the word may make many contemporary catholic Christians uncomfortable, perhaps we should acknowledge it.  It is, after all, exactly what we need when we are confronted by the power of sin in our own lives - in Hooker's phrase, "the power to absolve".

Thursday, 16 April 2015

"A character acknowledged to be indelible": Hooker, Trent, indelibility and hierarchy

But, forasmuch as in the sacrament of Order, as also in Baptism and Confirmation, a character is imprinted, which can neither be effaced nor taken away; the holy Synod with reason condemns the opinion of those, who assert that the priests of the New Testament have only a temporary power; and that those who have once been rightly ordained, can again become laymen, if they do not exercise the ministry of the word of God. And if any one affirm, that all Christians indiscrimately are priests of the New Testament, or that they are all mutually endowed with an equal spiritual power, he clearly does nothing but confound the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which is as an army set in array; as if, contrary to the doctrine of blessed Paul, all were apostles, all prophets, all evangelists, all pastors, all doctors.

Council of Trent, Session 23, Chpt. IV 'On Ecclesiastical hierarchy, and on ordination'.

If any one saith ... that a character is not imprinted by that ordination; or, that he who has once been a priest, can again become a layman; let him be anathema. 

Session 23, Canon IV.

As with the bestowal of the Spirit in Orders, the gift of ministerial priesthood, and the relationship between the order of bishops and the order of presbyters, there are some striking similarities between Hooker's understanding of the indelible character of ordination and the teaching of Trent.  In Hooker's words:

To whom Christ has imparted power both over that mystical body which is the society of souls, and over that natural which is himself for the knitting of both in one (a work which antiquity does call the making of Christ's body) the same power is in such not amiss both termed a kind of mark or character and acknowledged to be indelible (77.2).

As with Trent, he declares that the indelible character imprinted by ordination cannot be removed:

They which have once received this power may not think to put it off and on like a cloak as the weather serves, to take it reject and resume it as oft as themselves wish, of which profane and impious contempt these later times have yielded as of all other kind of iniquity and apostasy strange examples, but let them know which put their hands unto this plough that once consecrated unto God, they are made his peculiar inheritance for ever (77.3).

This, then, necessarily means that - in Trent's formulation - it cannot be accepted "that all Christians indiscrimately are priests of the New Testament, or that they are all mutually endowed with an equal spiritual power".  Thus, Hooker:

Ministerial power is a mark of separation, because it severes them that have it from other men and makes them a special order consecrated unto the service of the most high in things wherewith others may not meddle.  Their difference therefore from other men is that they are a distinct 'order' (77.2).


There is here a principle which makes many contemporary Christians - including catholic Christians - wince.  It is the principle which Chpt. IV of Trent's 23rd Session, quoted above, addressed - "hierarchy".  Charles Miller provides a superb explanation of why Hooker has a hierarchical understanding of the gift of Order:

The hierarchical principle was cited at the start of this study as a principle in Hooker's conceptual world.  It informs Hooker's understanding of Christian ministry in that the ordained, public ministry performs a key role as a ligature between the natural and the supernatural, between nature and grace.  Corneliu Simut captures Hooker's sense well when he explains that the ministry occupies a key position in the constant interaction between the transcendent God and the natural order.  We have seen how Hooker relies on Dionysius' hierarchical model of reality by which there is constant movement between its higher and lower orders.  Hierarchy, as we have stressed, has as its aim not separation but connection and (to use another key concept for Hooker) participation.  The clergy are enmeshed in this hierarchical order in that, joined by the people around them as well as by the 'intermingling angels', they convey divine blessing to the people and offer worshippers' intercession to God.

This, Miller continues, places the ministry of bishops, presbyters and deacons "within the over-arching pattern of humankind's return to God".

It is a richly sacramental vision of Orders that Hooker sets before us - a vision that is rooted in a very similar understanding (and, often, the same sources) that animated Trent's account of Orders and ecclesiastical hierarchy.  Above all, it emphasises Orders as gift, enabling participation in the mystical and natural Body of Christ.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

"Degrees of order still continuing the same": Hooker, Trent and the gift of Order

If any one saith, that, in the Catholic Church there is not a hierarchy by divine ordination instituted, consisting of bishops, priests, and ministers; let him be anathema. 

Canon VI of the 23rd Session of the Council of Trent.

I may securely therefore conclude that there at this day in the Church of England no other than the same degress of ecclesiastical order, namely Bishops, Presbyters, and Deacons, which had their beginning from Christ and his blessed Apostles themselves.

Hooker's LEP V, 78.12.

There is a difference here between Hooker and Trent.  Trent affirmed seven orders, adding "subdeacon, acolyth, exorcist, lector, and door-keeper" (Chpt. II 'On the Seven Orders').  Hooker, notes the offices of "catechists, exorcists, readers, singers", their patristic roots and "the end whereunto they were trained up which was to be ordered".  For Hooker, however, this last factor is exactly the point - those in these offices are "not tied by irrevocable ordination" (78.10).

Beyond this, however, there is remarkable agreement between Hooker and Trent on the divine institution of the orders of bishop, priest and deacon.  In Hooker's words:

It clearly appears that Churches Apostolic did know but three degrees in the power of ecclesiastical order, at the first Apostles, Presbyters, and Deacons, afterwards in stead of Apostles Bishops (78.9).

The relationship between Apostles/bishops and presbyters is also defined in similar terms by Hooker and Trent.  Thus according to Trent:

bishops, who have succeeded to the place of the apostles, principally belong to this hierarchial order; that they are placed, as the same apostle says, by the Holy Ghost, to rule the Church of God; that they are superior to priests; administer the sacrament of Confirmation; ordain the ministers of the Church (Chpt. IV 'On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy').

As we have seen, Hooker is explicit that bishops are the successors to the apostles.  In terms of the relationship between bishops and presbyters, Hooker regards them both as sharing in the "power of spiritual procreation" (78.3) which he deems to be at the heart of the Church's ministry.  He continues:

For of Presbyters some were greater some less in power and that by our Saviour's own appointment; the greater they which received fullness of spiritual power, the less they whom less was granted (78.4).

"The less" were those "inferior presbyters" whose ministry, Hooker states, would have been necessary to ensure  that there were "sufficient to teach and administer the sacraments" to the three thousand newly baptized on the day of Pentecost (78.4).  But it was given to the apostles - and, thus, their successors - to "ordain and consecrate whomsoever they thought meet". Likewise, in his discussion of Confirmation, Hooker invokes Jerome's defence of the bishop as the minister of Confirmation:

the holy Ghost is received in baptism; that confirmation is only a sacramental complement; that the reason why Bishops alone did ordinarily confirm, was not because the benefit, grace and dignity thereof is greater than of baptism, but rather for that by the sacrament of baptism men being admitted into God's Church it was both reasonable and convenient that if he baptise them not unto whom the chiefest authority and charge over their souls belongs, yet for honours sake and in token of his spiritual authority over them, because to bless is an act of authority, the performance of this annexed ceremony should be sought for at his hands (66.6).

He also points to Acts 8, quoting Cyprian, when those who received baptism from Philip subsequently received the laying on of hands from Peter and John.  Hooker states:

By this it appeareth that when the ministers of baptism were persons of inferior degree [i.e. priests or deacons], the Bishops did after confirm whom such had before baptised (66.5).

In other words, when Trent describes bishops as "principally belong to this hierarchial order", not only does Hooker agree when he refers to "fullness of spiritual power", he also agrees with Trent in determining what this power is - in the words of Trent, "to rule the Church of God; that they are superior to priests; administer the sacrament of Confirmation; ordain the ministers of the Church".

What is therefore shared between Hooker and Trent is the affirmation that Order, found in its fullness in the episcopate, shared with presbyters and exercised in part by deacons, is a divine gift "for the benefit of members knit into one body, the Church of Christ" (78.8).

It appeareth therefore how long these three degrees of ecclesiastical order have continued in the Church of Christ, the highest and largest that which the apostles, the next that which presbyters, and the lowest that which Deacons had ... degrees of order still continuing the same they were from the first beginning (78.5 & 12).

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

"In truth the word Presbyter doth seem more fit": Hooker, Trent and ministerial priesthood

If any one saith, that there is not in the New Testament a visible and external priesthood; or that there is not any power of consecrating and offering the true body and blood of the Lord, and of forgiving and retaining sins; but only an office and bare ministry of preaching the Gospel ... let him be anathema. 

Canon I of the 23rd Session of the Council of Trent.

I rather term the one sort Presbyters than Priests, because in a matter of so small moment I would not willingly offend their ears to whom the name of priesthood is odious though without cause ... Seeing then that sacrifice is now no part of the Church ministry how should the name of Priesthood be thereunto rightly applied? ... In truth the word Presbyter doth seem more fit, and in propriety of speech more agreeable than Priest with the drift of the whole gospel of Jesus Christ.

Hooker's LEP V, 78.2-3.

If yesterday's posting suggested a similarity between Hooker and Trent in affirming a "real donation" of the Spirit in Holy Orders, surely we have to accept a chasm exists between their respective understandings of ministerial priesthood?

Miller's analysis in Richard Hooker and the Vision of God should urge us to exercise some caution before presuming such a chasm:

What we may call the cultic function, tied to ministerial order, is primary [for Hooker].  Its span is as wide as the privileges of blessing and intercession that constitute the 'office' of the presbyter, but its centre is the sacraments and chiefly the Eucharist.

Here there is a similarity with Trent's understanding of ministerial priesthood centred upon "consecrating and offering the true body and blood of the Lord".  As Hooker states:

The power of the ministry of God translateth out of darkness into glory, it raiseth men from the earth and bringeth God himself down from heaven, by blessing visible elements it maketh them invisible grace, it giveth daily the Holy Ghost, it hath to dispose of that flesh which was given for the life of the world and that blood which was poured out to redeem souls (77.1).

Thus the ministerial priesthood has, contends Hooker, "power both over that mystical body which is the society of souls [the Church], and over that natural body [in the Eucharist] which is himself for the knitting of both in one" (77.2).

It is this vision of the ministerial priesthood nurturing the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ which leads Hooker to retrieve the patristic usage of 'presbyter'.  It is a term he regards an endowed with profound mystical, sacramental significance:

A presbyter according to the proper meaning of the New Testament is he unto whom our Saviour Christ hath communicated the power of spiritual procreation (78.3).

This echoes his earlier account of the relationship between Baptism and the Eucharist:

We receive Christ Jesus in baptism once as the first beginner, in the Eucharist often as being by continual degrees the finisher of our life (57.6).

But what then of ministerial priesthood and the Eucharist as sacrifice?  Miller is perhaps too cautious as this point:

We should notice in that passage ["the power of the Ministry etc"] how Hooker makes no mention of sacrifice.  Perhaps in order to avoid any Roman Catholic connotations he is silent.  While he is willing to make general links between the Eucharist and Christ's sacrifice, Hooker does not at any point take up that theme or the related theme of offering; nor does he apply them to the cultic office of the presbyter.

However, as Miller implies, Hooker is willing to invoke patristic practice.  Hooker notes that in speech we use the same word for different actions because of "proportionable correspondence".  Thus:

The fathers of the Church of Christ with like security of speech call usually the ministry of the gospel Priesthood in regard of that which the gospel hath proportionable to ancient sacrifices, namely the communion of the blessed body and blood of Christ, although it have properly now no sacrifice (78.2).

Considering Hooker's profound reverence for the patristic witness, this is not a passage to be passed over lightly.  He affirms that the patristic witness declared the bishop or presbyter at the altar to be a priest offering the Eucharist, "the communion of the blessed body and blood of Christ". 

In the theological and political context of the Reformation disputes, we can see Hooker carefully, cautiously and with nuance create space in the reformed ecclesia anglicana for an understanding of the ministerial priesthood which shared similarities with some - perhaps even many - of the affirmations of Trent.

His retrieval of the patristic vision of the ministry of the presbyter is grounded in the mystery and power of the sacraments, in a manner which outflanked those in England who considered 'presbyter' to be a more thoroughly Reformed term.  He demonstrated that 'presbyter' most certainly did not - in the words of Trent - refer to "only an office and bare ministry of preaching the Gospel".  The consecrating and giving of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist he deems - with the use of significant 'realist' language - to be central to the office and work of a priest.  While (obviously) rejecting the late medieval Latin practices and teachings which obscured the relationship between the Eucharist and Christ's offering on the Cross, he carefully affirms the patristic usage of 'eucharistic sacrifice'. 

It is appropriate to end where Hooker ends.  His last quotation in chapter 78 of Book V is from Optatus, on the three orders of ministry.  The words quoted include Optatus' description of the presbyterate - "presbyters in the second degree of priesthood".

Monday, 13 April 2015

"A real donation": Hooker on the "first ordinations" and Orders

Yesterday's Gospel reading at Mass - John 20:19-31 - included the words spoken by the Risen Christ that became the authoritative words for bestowing the order of priest in the classical Anglican rite:

... the Bishop with the Priests present shall lay their hands severally upon the head of every one that receiveth the Order of Priesthood; the receivers humbly kneeling upon their knees, and the Bishop saying,

Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Hooker's discussion of the words "Receive the Holy Ghost" and the order of ministerial priesthood includes a powerful reflection on the sacramentality of Orders (i.e. there is an outward, visible sign and an inward, spiritual grace).  He begins by affirming that the gift of the Spirit is indeed bestowed in Orders, contrary to those critics of the Elizabethan Settlement condemning the words used in the Ordinal as "foolish":

A thing most stumbled at in the manner of giving orders is our using those memorable words of our Lord and Saviour Christ, 'Receive the holy Ghost'.  The holy Ghost they say we cannot give, and therefore we foolishly bid men receive it ... The Holy Ghost may be used to signify not the person alone by the 'gifts of the holy Ghost'; and we know that Spiritual 'gifts' are not only abilities to do things miraculous, as to speak with tongues which were never taught us, to cure diseases without art, and such like, but also that the very authority and power which is given men in the Church to be ministers of holy things this is contained within the number of those gifts whereof the holy Ghost is author, and therefore he which gives this power may say without absurdity or folly 'Receive the holy Ghost', such power as the Spirit of Christ has indued his Church withal, such power as neither prince nor potentate, king nor Caesar on earth can give (LEP V, 77.5)

There is, then, a "real donation" in the bestowal of Holy Orders (and note the reference to "visible sign"):

By which words [Christ] must of likelihood understand some gift of the Spirit which was presently at that time bestowed upon them as both the speech of actual delivery in saying 'Receive', and the visible sign thereof his breathing did show.  Absurd it were to imagine our Saviour did both to the ear and also to the very eye express a real donation, and they at that time receive nothing.  It rests then that we search what especial grace they did at that time receive.  Touching miraculous power of the Spirit, most apparent it is that as then they received it not ... Wherefore undoubtedly it was some other effect of the Spirit the holy Ghost in some other kind which our Saviour did then bestow.  What other likelier then that which himself does mention as it should seem of purpose to take away all ambiguous constructions and to declare that the holy Ghost which he then gave was a holy and Ghostly authority, authority over the souls of men, authority a part of which consists in power to remit and retain sins? (77.6-7).

Hooker goes on to declare that what occurred in the locked room with the disciples on the first Easter, now occurs in Ordination:

Seeing therefore that the same power is now given, why should the same form of words expressing it be thought foolish?  The cause why we breath not as Christ did on them unto whom he imparted power is for that neither Spirit nor spiritual authority may be thought to proceed from us which are but his delegates ... to give men possession of his graces.  Now besides that the power and authority delivered with those words is itself ... a gracious donation which the Spirit of God does bestow, we may most assuredly persuade ourselves that the hand imposes upon us the function of our ministry does under the same form of words do tie itself therefore, that he which receives the burden is thereby for ever warranted to have the Spirit with him and in him for his assistance, aid, countenance and support in whatsoever he faithfully does to discharge duty (77.7-8).

Thus, what occurred at the "first ordinations" continues through those who are the apostles' "successors in like authority and place":

Remove what these foolish words do imply, and what has the ministry of God besides wherein to glory?  Where as now for as much as the holy Ghost which our Saviour in his first ordinations gave does no less concur with Spiritual vocations throughout all ages then the Spirit which God derived form Moses to them that assisted him in his government did descend from them to their successors in like authority and place, we have for the least and meanest duties performed by ministerial power that to dignify, grace and authorise them which no other offices on earth can challenge.  Whether we preach, pray, baptise, communicate, condemn, give absolution, or whatsoever, as disposers of God's mysteries, our words, judgements, acts and deeds, are not ours but the holy Ghost's (77.8).

As Charles Miller notes in his Richard Hooker and the Vision of God, Hooker does not call Orders a sacrament because of "the strict criteria ... he lays down for such nomenclature".  Miller continues, however:

Hooker is nonetheless clear that a charism is communicated ... If it is not a sacrament in Hooker's strict sense, it is nonetheless a full-blown channel of grace.

It is the vivid dynamism of Hooker's account that is particularly compelling.  What we heard in yesterday's Gospel reading at Mass on the Octave of Easter is no mere historical account of a past event, but a living reality in the church catholic.  As on the evening of the first Easter Day, so now - the gift of the Spirit is given through Orders to those called to the apostolic ministry of priests.  

It is also striking that Hooker's understanding of Orders, and his defence of the Anglican rite against those seeking a 'more thorough Reformation', centres on the very words which the Council of Trent deemed to be foundational to the Sacrament of Order:

If any one saith, that, by sacred ordination, the Holy Ghost is not given; and that vainly therefore do the bishops say, Receive ye the Holy Ghost ... let him be anathema (On the Sacrament of Order, Canon IV).