Monday, September 22, 2008

The Use of Authority part I: What is Authority?

Recent comments offered by AK and Mark Partalis raise for me important questions that are of both great theoretical and practical interest. Specifically, the comments they, and others, offer cause me to reflect on the nature of authority generally and in the life of the Church.

In classical Christian thought, authority--whether personal, secular or religious--is not an end in itself, but given for the common good. So for example we have Jesus reminding the disciples that in imitation of his example, they are given authority not to lord it over others, but for service:

Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mk 10: 42-45)

The Apostle Paul builds on this idea when he argues that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to each on behalf of all:

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head-Christ- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Eph 4:12-16)

It is worth noting, that for Paul (as with Jesus) authority to rule, and by implication, the rule of law and the demands of justice, are not opposed to love. Rather, authority, law, justice are all in the service of joining and knitting together of the whole Body of Christ. Seen in this light, authority takes on a decidedly eschatological character--it points beyond itself to that time in the life to come when it will be revealed that " Christ is all and in all." (see, Col 3:11)

Authority, the rule of law and the fulfillment and transcendence of the demands of justice is what makes it possible for us, personally and communally, to put to "death" that in us which is of "the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." (Col 3:5) These vices bring down upon us as Paul says, "the wrath of God . . . upon the sons of disobedience (v. 6) and bred in the human heart "anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, [and] filthy language." (v. 8) And not only that, but between us, in the social realm grounded not in truth spoken in love (see Eph 4:15), but rather a "lie . . . since [we] have [not yet] put off the old man with his deeds." (Col 3.9).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory
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