Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Use of Authority part II: Serving the Common Good

Building what I said yesterday, I would argue that the right exercise of authority, the rule of law and the respectful transcendence of justice, are what makes it possible for us by grace to be "renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created [us], where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all" (vv. 10-11) and,

as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (vv. 11-16)

Classical Christian political philosophy (which is grounded in the experiences as the sacramental presence of City of God in the midst of the City of Man) draws from the parallel Paul sketches between the human body and the body of human society. In the human body, it belongs to reason (broadly understood to include what we call emotion and desire) to rule the whole body. We get a sense of what reason's rule means in the prayer at tonsure in the baptismal service:

Master, Lord our God, who honoured mortals with your image, furnishing them with a rational soul and a comely body, so that the body might serve the rational soul, you placed the head at the very top and in it you planted the majority of the senses, which do not interfere with one another, while you covered the head with hair so as not to be harmed by the changes of the weather, and you fitted all the limbs most suitably to each one, so that through them all they might give thanks to you, the master craftsman.

The human person is seen as a harmonious whole. The head (i.e., reason) has the first place in the body, but is submissive to the rational soul. I would suggest that we see in the rational soul not the faculty of reason, but the source of human reason AND an image of Christ. Reason governs the body, but is not only not separate from the body, but dependent on it. And, together, reason and the body are submissive to Christ. It is only through a thankful obedience the human person can be him or herself. Reason, emotions, desires, senses, and physical needs--can function properly, that is, without interfering with one another, in obedience to Christ and with a reason being exercised with concern and respect for the proper role of all the faculties of the body.

This is what Paul tells us in Romans when, writing about the different spiritual gifts given to each member of the Body of Christ, he writes:

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Rm 12.3-8)

Authority is given for the service of all. This service is not passive, a benign neglect if you will, but rather (I would suggest) a matter of actively fostering the common good by serving the particular good in Christ of each member of the Body. Again, Paul:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. (vv. 9-13)

Tomorrow, I want to reflect briefly with you on what we can learn about authority from those times when we fail to exercise authority "on behalf of all and for all" but only for some and ourselves.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory
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A White Gown

“Father, why are you sad?” - a pupil asked the elder.

“People forgotten how to see truth. Three times I showed three of you white clothes with a dirty stain. And I asked, ‘What do you see?’ ‘A dirty stain,’ said every one of you.

And no one thought to answer - a white gown. “

H/T: Fr Milovan Katanic of "Again and Again."