Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Bishops roles in context

Studying, on S Cyprian’s Day, what bishops are for with colleagues, there’s a clear four fold pragmatic model emerging. Bishops seem to have four kinds of role:
  • Priest — signifier — drawing people to a wider purpose in God, beyond themselves, mediating, feeding the good esate of the Christian community

  • Prophet — disturber — raising expectancy, reframing perceptions, challenging assumptions

  • Apostolic Leader — transformer — encouraging shifts in understanding and practice

  • Theologian — reflector — attending to the moment, interpreting and applying in a bigger context
So far so good. I wondered, however, about the more than individual perspective on all this. Since I first came across them years ago when working on Edward White Benson’s biography of Cyprian, I have been very struck by these words of the North African 3rd Century saint:
Quam unitatem tenere firmiter et vindicare debemus maxime episcopi, qui in ecclesia praesidimus, ut episcopatum quoque ipsum unum atque indivisum probemus. Episcopatus unus est cuius a singulis in solidum pars tenetur
(Bishops who preside in Church should firmly to hold and assert this unity that we may also prove the episcopate one and undivided... The episcopate is one, of which each part is held by the individual for the whole)

For Benson this assertion expressed the purpose of episcopal minstry. What are the the gifts, qualities and habits that make someone a good steward of their share in something, the whole of which they bear on behalf of the whole, but locally?


rosie said...

This Cyprian quote is a potent one on favour of a single measure for women bishops.

Alastair Cutting said...

Your 'bishops roles' list reminded me of some of the items in the article by +Kenneth Stevenson, recently of Portsmouth too...

JohnG said...

Visiting the Banksy exhibition this summer where there was a scurrilous sculpture of a bishop nearly (but not quite) triggered a blog post from me on the subject. The very roles you articulate don't seem nearly as hierarchical as the episcopacy seems to connote. And the hooha over women bishops wouldn't have had the controversy unless there was something other than those 4 roles (in which women priests have already amply demonstrated their gifting). Something straight out of patriarchy -perhaps the role of enforcer - or the whips office in Westminster. Cyprian's comment is inspirational but surely there is some requirement that unity must be enforced. And so it raises the question what needs to be repudiated from a male understanding of the episcopate - or what is it that women bishops have to take on which women priests have not yet had to.

Bob MacDonald said...

Are these four roles confined to the cloth? Or is the office supposed to remind the church of her role?

Norah Bolton said...

This bears some thinking about! As a lay person, I am travelling across Canada consulting with provincial synods on the role of the primate - and there would be little disagreement on the four qualities - but certainly some difference re sees, powers (especially over metropolitans,(senior bishops) a feature of our history, where Dioceses are organized into four provinces, somewhat related to geography. Whether old structures relate to new realities is also an issue.

Nancy Wallace said...

The 4-fold model and your further reflection about good steward and unity include all the roles I look for in my bishop(s). I also wonder about the role of 'deacon'. A deacon does not cease to be a deacon on being ordained 'priest' or 'bishop'. Probably you considered that, but I think it's worth highlighting.

Anonymous said...

David said...
All four aspects seem to me to only be valid episcopal roles if pegged to absolutes, rather than the current statements, which seem completely relative.

But no under-shepherd can legitimately go against the Shepherd's teachings. And unity of the episcopal role must be both universal and historical. So all episcopal functions must be explicitly exercised in submission to Christ, in obedience to his teachings, and those of the Apostles and the Church universal and historical.

Without this clearly expressed, Bishops may find themselves attempting to be definers of the faith (both beliefs and practices), rather than defenders of the faith, and cut themselves off from their fellow Bishops.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, and my apologies for being rather busy when I should have gotten back more quickly on your insightful comments.

Rosie, The great horror of North frican ecclesiology in the 3rd/4th century was the Donatist schism, which saw various alternative bishops knocking around the place simultaneously. Apart from the theological limitations, which weren't about Jurisdiction as much as the nature of episcopacy, It made for a Church that simply shattered when the Muslims arrived in North Africa. So, er, yes, there's a lot to be be said for what you're suggesting.

Alistair kenneth sent his address round us all before his late lamented retirement, and I greatly enjoyed it. I wish I'd seen it a few years ago!

John, I'd love to see the Banksy, which sounds fun. The four roles are not unique to bishops, simply distinctive of their ministry, which is shared with all disciples to a certain extent. The "episcope" is bigger than the episcopate, just as, I'd agree, our tradition or odaining cumulatively means the diaconal calling should remain active in priests and bishops — as should the lay calling of their baptism. Very much with you on this, Seeker.

Norah, differences over powers etc operate on a job description level. I would think the more clarity there is about the shaoe of the job, the more freedom there is to be pragmatically sensible about the job descriptions called for in each circumstance.

Finally David, thanks for drawing attention to the ontological dimension of ordination, on which Cyprian was very keen, and the principle of which is inherent in the concept of "in solidum". It was never, however, quite the whole story. If it were, all we'd need would be subscription to the creeds and scriptures of the Church (which we've always had), and there'd be no pressure for additional definitions of the faith in these terms. Some of the 19th Century Anglo-Catholics I studied, for example, insisted that no bishop could ask them to stop using incense without acting ultra vires. few of us would want to apply your principle in that way, surely. So we'd all agree about the principle, but the devil would be in the detail of applying it, apart from in the broadest terms to the faith as defined by the historic creeds. This would not be enough for some pressure groups today, who would want to define the true faith more tightly than that.

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