Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Under Orders

Chris has an interesting piece on clericalism and anti-clericalism over at his place that has sparked some commentary. It raises interesting questions such as "What are bishops, priests, deacons, and laity for?" and "What are seminaries for?" One thing that Chris points out that is often underappreciated, is the freedom that the laity exercise in Christ. He is correct that laity do constitute an order of ministry, but they are not "under orders" in quite the same way as ordained ministers.

I rejoice that my lay sisters and brothers have not promised to "be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them" or to "obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work." (BCP, p. 526) This gives them much more room to speak truth to power and to urge the prophetic and innovative in our common life. At the same time, I rejoice that I have made such promises, so that lay people have something to work with and against in our shared responsibility continually to renew our tradition and make it a living sacrament for the world.

I've commented previously on priesthood here and here. I leave it to those who live them to comment on the other orders of ministry. I do want to say a brief word about what seminaries are for. I think Chris is right that theological education should be available to all the orders of ministry, and that each order should contribute to such education, particularly if we recall that the Greek Fathers understood theologia to be the contemplation of God. As Thomas Merton describes it, "Theologia . . . is a direct quasi-experiential contact with God beyond all thought, that is to say, without the medium of concepts . . . Theology in this sense is a direct contact with God." (The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation, p. 68)

Seminaries, then, should primarily be schools of prayer that serve to facilitate contemplation of God. These days, they tend to focus almost exclusively on what the Fathers called theoria physike, "the intuition of divine things in and through the reflection of God in nature and in the symbols of revelation." (Ibid.) While this, too, is a proper object of theological education, it often becomes the whole of seminary study to the neglect of the experiential element. Such an experience of God is not reserved to spiritual elites, much less clerics, but is the baptismal birthright of every Christian. What would seminary studies look like if we recaptured this sense of theology? What would congregations look like, for that matter?

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