Saturday, August 25, 2018

Imperial Episcopacy in the Catholic Periphery

I have been reflecting for several days on this article at First Things (The End of the Imperial Episcopate). In particular, it has been helpful to reflect on how this impacts us outside the Roman Catholic Church but still in the Catholic tradition. I will try to limit my commentary to our own needs.

In many ways, we are practically limited from an "imperial episcopate." We do not typically have large chancelleries and numerous staff. Some people might (in their own minds or on their websites) but it rarely reflects reality. Our outfits are usually much more humble. To me, this is one of the beautiful aspects of our movement. We are devoid of the bureaucracy that plagues other parts of the Church Catholic. 

Another part where we differ is that LITERALLY ANYONE can become a bishop. LITERALLY ANYONE. There, I said it. This is not unique to our movement--we see the exact same thing in traditionalist Catholic circles, among the Old Calendarists, etc. All one has to do is have a sympathetic bishop to consecrate them. Often, this can limit the clericalism of individuals because they realize that their episcopal nature is much closer to the Early Church model of presbyter-bishops and deacons (for good or for worse). When it becomes problematic is when people "don't get the memo" and try to set themselves up as imperial poobahs (His All Holiness the Patriarch of Mesopotamia and All the East--which to my knowledge is not a clerical title... yet) without realizing that their exalted episcopal status is... unremarkable.

These are things that are decried both inside and outside of the movement. "There are too many bishops. Anyone can become a bishop. There is no structure. We don't have a headquarters. We have no incentive to keep priests like health insurance or churches." These are just some of the comments we hear. Many of these things are true, but I try to look at the more positive aspects. We are without bureaucracy so we can meet people where they really are and where they are most in need. And that should be our calling--as both priests and bishops. 

I agree with the author of the above piece that externals can be problematic. However, I don't think that they should necessarily be eliminated. Choir cassocks and piping and all of those things give important events solemnity. I think they should and can be used, but--and this is a big but--sparingly. We look insane if we put on all our finery for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time or the 12th Sunday after Pentecost. An ordination, yes. Not every Sunday. In fact, as I've mentioned before, I much prefer to be called father and titles like Excellency and Your Grace make me rather uncomfortable. I think finery can be retained but in small doses and in the appropriate setting. Especially when the inevitable question comes--"how many ministries do you have?" If the remark is not suitably large enough for the petitioner, the one answering can look like a real kook.

In reality we are doing a lot of the things mentioned in the article. Dioceses are able to be smaller and people are able to know the bishop. There are very few auxiliary bishops and bishops get to know the priests they support. Bishops must be called to humility and gentleness. As mentioned, I don't think that episcopal finery is a problem in and of itself. I have, in fact, met progressive priests who were dictators in their own command for control. Who required everything to be a certain way--their way--to the exclusion of all others. And I have met the same quality in traditional priests. It is rarely the garment that makes the individual oppressive--it's the mindset.

So let us rejoice in those things we are doing well. Smaller, base communities of faithful who are receiving the sacraments. People who need access to the grace given by the holy sacraments receive them from our hands. Part of this may include a bit of finery (in appropriate doses) but it can't distract people from our mission. And it can't be so over used that we look truly crazy. Or crazier, in some cases.

"For a golden-hearted bishop, wooden crozier ; for a wooden-headed bishop, golden crozier." - French Proverb

1 comment:

  1. I could not agree with you more. I direct any interested parties to the following article by the late +Karl Pruter who used to boast of having "The World's Smallest Cathedral." The article is entitled "Should You Become an Old Catholic Bishop?"