Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Use of Authority part III: For All or Only For Me?

While there have been some good responses, in main the Church's response to misconduct in the Church, has suggests to me a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of public authority as given for the common good. Paul, ever the clear eyed commentator of all things human and divine, puts the matter directly: authority is "appointed by God" (Rms 12.1) not as a terror "to good works, but to evil." (v. 3) Granted Paul is speaking in this passage of civil authority, but even within the Church the Apostle to the Gentiles was willing to exercise a terrible authority in the face of evil.

The same man who writes the hymn of the primacy of love among the spiritual gifts (1 Cor 13), soundly condemns the divisions in the Church (1.10-17; 3.1-3; 6.1-11), sexual immorality (5.9-12; 6.12-20), the indifference of some to the spiritual and physical needs of others in the community (8.1-9; 11.21-22), and even (implicitly to be sure) criticize his brother apostles (9.1-18). Without a hint of the embarrassment that has come to characterize the contemporary use of authority (when it is not exercised in a heavy handed manner), Paul lays down rules for worship (11.1-16; 14.6-19, 26-40) and sexual morality (7.10-40).

And when there are those among the faithful who would sacrifice the common good in the pursuit of their own self-desires?

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named[a] among the Gentiles-that a man has his father's wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (5.1-5)

After excommunicating (to speak anachronistically) the offending couple, Paul then goes on the chastise the Church for its failures. The Church was willing to sacrifice its shared responsibility to preserve the common good rather than offend (given the general tenor of the community) wealthy members. Again Paul:

Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (vv. 6-8)

This brings us back full circle. Authority, the rule, the fulfillment and transcendence of the demands of justice is in the service of the common good. But the common good is served only through an attention of those in authority to the particular good of those who are members of the community. Granted as the community grows numerically, this service of the common good by attending to the particular good of individuals becomes increasingly complicated, but the principle is nevertheless consistent. As human reason serves the good of whole physical and spiritual good of the person through reason's thankful obedience to Christ, so too in marriage the father serves the good of the family through his thankful obedience to Christ. Likewise, for the priest in the parish, the bishop in the diocese and the civil authority in the state, are all called to serve the good of all by serving the unique good of each.

BUT, as we will see tomorrow, the visible authority within the body does not invalidate the shared responsibility, and thus authority, of all members of the community to work for the common good of all by serving the particular good of others.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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