Nov 30, 2008

(Either|Both) Clergy (or|and) Laity

Today is, I think, my first doctrinal post.

When I first spoke to Fr. Mike about becoming Catholic, we both agreed that almost all of the differences between Catholic and Protestant theological issues are intellectually misunderstood as a false dilemma - with the Protestants misunderstanding, of course. ;) This is probably worth a stand-alone post, but for now I'll demonstrate what I mean with a specific issue.

False dilemma is also known as "either-or" fallacy - hence the title of this post, which is a regular expression alternation (i.e., geeky) form of what I believe is the false dilemma some Protestants see in dividing clergy and laity. The doctrinal form of the dilemma would be something like, "EITHER you believe in the priesthood of all believers, OR you believe in a distinct priesthood." While the Catholic understanding is better expressed like, "I believe in BOTH the priesthood of all believers AND a distinct priesthood class."

For me, this dilemma is closely related to the dilemma between the visible, hierarchical church and the Mystical Church. One of the many Catholic apologetic books I've read has this to say:

The Catholic Church has always proclaimed this [i.e. oneness] characteristic [of the Apostles' Creed] also, under the broad and rich concept of the Mystical Church (under which it acknowledges Protestantism), yet it does not pit the Mystical Church against the institutional, or visible Church, as most Evangelicals do. For Catholics, then, the issue of oneness is substantially related to organizational and practical aspects of ecclesiology. Catholics believe that the Church is BOTH organism AND organization, not merely the former.

I, and many of my Protestant friends, find it interesting that although they disagree with the idea of a special priesthood, nearly every Protestant denomination has organizational rules of ordination. It seems to just demonstrate the truth of the statement above - any church unavoidably includes BOTH organism AND organization. In a similarly inclusive way, every believer is called by God to live personally (organically?) priestly - to live a holy and faithful life, and to perform priestly functions - sacrifices, prayers, etc. ... AND there is also an organizational priesthood who live distinctly (e.g., celibate) and perform distinct priestly functions - to forgive sins in Jesus' name, to dispense sacraments, etc.

Like every Catholic doctrine I've examined, these ideas of a inclusive-and-distinctive priesthood and a visible, hierarchical Church are not new or novel in any way - they are only new to me because of my Protestant upbringing. They are found in the ancient church - throughout the New Testament there are implicit and explicit references to the institutional church and to bishops (episkopos), elders/presbyterians/priests (presbyteros), and deacons (diakons). Going even further back, God said to the Jews, "You shall be to me a kingdom of priests." (Ex. 19:6) AND the Jews also instituted a visible and hierarchical Levitical priesthood.

Now there is always the matter of interpreting the meanings of things from Scripture, and to that I admit that I simply confide in the Church's interpretations when I feel inadequate to make my own - which is increasingly often; though I haven't felt the Church conflict with any of my own beliefs. But maybe I can get away from Scripture and make a stretchy analogy ...

I just got back from a business/vacation trip in Brazil. I went to speak at a programmers' conference - an open-source audience. Open-source has had a few religious metaphors though, so I don't think mine will be too far-fetched. The open-source community is a community of believers, to be sure. :)

This particular conference needed lots of special, distinct organization - Er Galvao organized all the speakers, content, etc., and Anderson organized a bunch of the sponsorship companies, logistics, etc. The event would not have happened without them.

There are other types of tech conferences, called BarCamps, that are (almost?) completely organic. I think they almost never have corporate sponsors, and the activity is completely impulsive on the part of the participants.

Both kinds are great and help improve open-source software for developers, users - everyone. And there's obviously all kinds of overlap. A personal experience from this conference ...

I needed a DVI-to-SVGA adapter for my presentation, and I didn't have one - even 5m before my talk! I had asked Galvao and Anderson about it and they were pulling some of their official channels to find one - they told me to ask Rafael, whom I bumped into outside the presentation room. I told him my problem and he tracked down a friend who had the right adapter for me. If there had not been both the formal and informal connections, I wouldn't have it and my presentation would have sucked.

If I had relied on EITHER Galvao OR Rafael, I would not have found what I was looking for - indeed I wouldn't have found Rafael without Galvao. By relying on BOTH the official event organizer AND an unofficial organizer, we made it work.

And looking back on it, it's much more of a stretch than I initially thought. Oh well, I'll just leave it out there - I've never much cared for hiding my thoughts, no matter how obscure they might be.


Matt said...

The discussion might be worth viewing from a different angle. Consider the question...

Without a priestly class, would the protestant (a much too broad distinction IMO) church persist?

Likewise, without a priestly class, would the catholic church persist?

The answer to these question might provide a clearer distinction between to two positions (or it might not.

luke said...

That's the thing though ... those questions presuppose the distinction of the "priestly class" from the rest of the church.

It's like asking if you remove a (Catholic|Protestant)'s head, will their body persist?

You could answer "yes" for the Protestant, but then they're a zombie or something - and that's gotta suck, right?

Matt said...

but the Catholic church does make that distinction, right?

luke said...

There is a distinction, yes, for sure. I think your use of the word "distinction" is confusing me.

What I think you're questions are really addressing is the different positions of "independence" of clergy and laity. i.e., Protestants see an clear independence of laity from clergy, and vice-versa.

I don't believe that anymore. I believe Jesus meant for clergy and laity to operate as one body operates.

Matt said...

so, in essence, one cannot exist without the other. Is that right?

luke said...

Yeah, I believe so.

FHL_Always said...

I didn't know if I should comment on my own blog, or comment on yours haha. O well. gives a basic description. But you can find stuff on it everywhere online. Just google it.

I think I may have liked the game if 25% of my grade didn't depend on it.