Thursday, December 13, 2012

Leithart: Bring back ordination in chains

Peter J. Leithart (Against Christianity, pp. 117-118) longs for the days when pastoral candidates were not so enthusiastic about jumping into the fray.
Historically, a pastoral candidate's desires often had little to do with the Church's call to serve in pastoral office. Far from seeking out positions of leadership, the greatest of the church fathers resisted with all their strength. Augustine had to be dragged into the cathedral for his ordination to the bishopric of Hippo. When he was a deacon, John Chrysostom made a pact with a friend that they would enter the priesthood together, but when the friend went forward John was nowhere to be found. Martin of Tours was carried from his cell and conducted to his ordination under guard. Gregory the Great, so we are told by his earliest biographer, fled from Rome to hide in the woods when rumors began to circulate that he was being considered for bishop. A humble anchorite saw in a vision where Gregory was hiding, and the Romans trooped out to bring him back for ordination. Calvin was persuaded to remain in Geneva only because Farel's warnings made leaving even more terrifying than staying. So common was such resistance to ordination that as late as the nineteenth century the patriarchs-elect of Alexandria were led to their ordination wearing shackles. 
In the modern church, calling has been reduced to little more that a strong desire to hold a position of ecclesiastical leadership. The terror of responsibility for the Church described by many of the leading pastoral writers of the earlier centuries is seldom expressed during ordination exams. Candidates with even slight reservations about entering the ministry are treated with more than a little suspicion. 
This dramatic shift in the Church's understanding of calling is part and parcel of what David F. Wells had identified as the professionalization of the clergy, the reduction of ministry to technical and managerial competence. Pastoral ministry, Wells charges, has been detached from its theological moorings, and has become another career option for the upwardly mobile "helping professional." One might well recoil from a duty imposed by divine vocation; but one aggressively markets oneself for a career. It is no accident that so many pastors disdain the clerical collar, which is, after all, the collar of the slave. 
The Church will find herself in a healthier, if more intense and serious, condition when pastoral candidates begin again to appear for their ordination exams wearing chains.