Thursday, June 7, 2012


I do understand the notion of development in the Church - I am all for it, and all for Blessed John Henry Newman's understanding of development - but what is able to change in the Church - develop - and what is not able to change?  Most discussions in the Church today, and I say "discussions" with my tongue in cheek, regarding development have to do with issues related to sex and gender; realistically, these are not discussions but battles in the culture wars, with the Church claiming unbroken tradition regarding proper sexual behavior and acts and others within the Church, theologians such as Sr. Margaret Farley, ordinary lay people and even some within the clergy, claiming that we must carefully consider development in our understanding of the role, place and purposes of sex for the faithful within the Church. After introducing this topic, though, I want to put it aside, for arguments for or against development in the understanding of licit sexual behavior and who might be married sometimes threatens to swallow whole Catholic theology. The Church hierarchy has been quite clear: it is not budging on this issue, just as it budges on no other issue concerning the truth.

So, when I was reading a short post, yet another one, on leaks within the Vatican - VatiLeaks! - I came across a line that genuinely shocked me and it had nothing to do with the nature or content of the leaks. This shock might be due to my tender sensibilities, or the fact that I am a naive biblical scholar, but when I read this Catholic News Service report I was a little taken aback:


The first shock was the "inequality before the Law" that the Vatican maintains for Cardinals, in the sense that some members of the Vatican are "more equal" than others. But the second, larger, more significant shock was that there are "Princes of the Church." I am just beginning in my Gospel of Mark Online Commentary to discuss the emergence of the Church, through the appointing and sending out of the Apostles. It is a task they are called to share with Jesus and this is what I wrote:

The role of the Church is to carry on Jesus' ministry - that is its only task. Jesus made it clear later in the Gospel of Mark that this task was not easy and certainly not one of luxury or ease:



35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." 36 And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" 37 And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." 38 But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" 39 They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." 41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." (NRSV)
This is a packed pericope, but starting at 10:42 the precise question of Church authority and leadership arises. Jesus speaks of Gentile rulers as "lording" over their subjects and their megaloi - great ones - wielding"power" over them, that is, there is a clear relationship of subservience for the ruled: they are less than, not equal to, their rulers. Jesus quite clearly says to his apostles, though, "this is not so amongst you," that is, this is not the way you are to govern those in your care. Instead, leaders of the Church if they want to be mega - great - must be a diakonos, servant; if they want to be "first," they must be a doulos, a slave. Why? Because this is the model Jesus has set for the Church as a whole and the leadership particularly and it is seen perfectly accomplished in his offering of his life on behalf of the world.

This is not, by the way, an argument against "authority" in the Church, especially not apostolic authority or succession, or against the development of the manner in which that authority manifests itself. It is a question of the nature of development and how "far" development in belief and practice can grow and still claim to be in tune with the directives of Jesus when his teaching seems at odds with the stated development. Can the Church utilize the notion of the superiority of its rulers and the language of "Princes of the Church" and still remain connected to the clear teaching of Jesus in Mark 10:42-45 about how the apostles and their successors are to manifest authority and power as servants and slaves "to all"?

John W. Martens

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