Monday, 30 April 2012

Vatican II and the Rise of the Episcopacy


As I have tried to put forward in these few articles, in my opinion the second Vatican Council was a Council for neither the laity nor the Priests, but rather for the Bishops. They took the agenda and ran with it, but were guided more by the world and by bad theology than the eternal truths of the faith. Perhaps they just took them for granted. Bit of a mistake that.

So what do I mean by the rise of the Episcopacy?


If you look at the picture above then you see that in the time before the Council there were seven orders in the Church: Porter, Lector, Exorcist, Acolyte, Sub-Deacon, Deacon and Priest. We have very early documents talking about them. They contained within them a theology of the Priesthood. Note, quite importantly, that Bishops are not mentioned anywhere. Strange that.

When I was in seminary we were taught that there were not seven orders in the Church but three: Deacon, Priest and Bishop.

In very bald terms five were ditched and one was added. Say goodbye to Porter, Exorcist, Acolyte and Sub-Deacon and say hello – a big Hi There, Howdy and Hello – to Episcopacy.


The minor orders were supressed after the Council, and it seems to have been a needless, petty act of destruction of the tradition of the Church, but the theology of the Bishops was not just added as an after thought. No, it was the reason that all of these new Council Documents could be written, and the theology of the Episcopacy subsumed within itself all of the other orders.

If you like, in the past the minor Orders were added one on top of another and the highest was the Priesthood. But after the Council the theology was inversed, turned upside down. Deacons and Priests found their identity in the Bishops. Suddenly, from being the pinnacle built atop of the other orders, each order (and there were only Deacons and Priests left) – and thinking especially of the Priesthood – could no longer stand on its own dignity and authority. Priests could only be thought of as defective Bishops. Bishops had the ‘fullness of Orders’ and Deacons and Priests only found their full expression in relation to them.

Bishops had annexed both the Priesthood and the Diaconate to themselves. Now, that’s not bad going, from not existing in the list of Orders at all to being the sun around which the remaining ones must revolve to have meaning.


And then, having made the Priesthood essentially subservient to them (and with the laity always in their place!), they began to look at their relationship with the Pope. Once you have elevated your position so much, what is to stop you going all the way and putting the Holy Father in his place? Why should you follow diktats from Rome? After all you are a Bishop, a Successor of the Apostles, the one in whom all Priests find their identity?

And if you think I’m being melodramatic, then why do Bishops ignore simple clear instructions? Read Redemptionis Sacramentum and see how many liturgical abuses are going on. And what was some Bishops’ response? “That is not applicable in England and Wales”. So then when a Priest sees such obvious dissent in their Bishop (Bishop: “Behold Jesus, the Crucified and Risen One who came among us as a man – blessed are those who come to the Supper of the Lamb”: No that is not what it says and we must obey the Liturgy and not be masters of it), and please also remember that the Priest now basks in the reflected glory of his master the Bishop, then are you really surprised when those same Priests sit so lightly to the Church and her teaching. I am my master’s man, and if he ignores bits, so will I.


And it is no use a Bishop demanding the obedience which he thinks is his due, for this new theology of Episcopacy called the Bishops to a life of exemplary obedience, which the practice of the new theology tempted them away from. Priests had to see radical obedience to reflect it in their own lives, “My Priesthood finds its meaning in my Bishop, my obedience reflects the obedience of my Bishop”, while at the same time the new theology (and the principles of ‘modern theology’) seemed to liberate the Bishops from any external authority at all. The Bishops thought they could do what they wanted, so I will do the same.

The Bishops found their identity by getting together for a Council and deciding things for themselves without much reference to anyone or anything else.

Of course the tensions were going to show and stress lines and fractures were going to make an appearance.


Already the competency of Bishops Councils is being reined in and Bishops are being called to account. Diocese are seeing the results of this ‘freedom’ of Bishops which the Priests thought was freedom for themselves but which never in reality existed for either. Priests are again called back to fidelity to the Church, by the Church and for the good of the Church.

But none of this was helped by a re-writing of the Episcopacy. In fact if anything it materially contributed to the dissent and disinterest in the faith by, now, two generations.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...