Sunday, February 25, 2007

On the Magisterium (Redux)

This was first published on the web by me on Brad Drell's blog back in the Fall of last year. I thought I would put it up on my blog now because it seems the appropriate thing to do. If you find it interesting, please let me know. If you think I'm a total loon, please also let me know. I doesn't cost anything to comment, and the input helps me to know if how I'm doing. Thanks and God bless.


In Chapter 4 of John’s Gospel, Jesus is traveling from the Jordan near Jerusalem back home to Galilee. Passing through Samaria, He encounters the woman at the well. Consider verse 22: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4: 22 RSV) How can she, the Samaritan woman at the well, worship God yet not know him? The Samaritans worshiped the God of Israel, but the Samaritan Bible contained only the first five books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Lacking the Books of the Prophets, the Wisdom Literature, and the Histories, the Samaritans had no way to know how God had continued to reveal Himself to His people following the death of Moses. They knew that they were to worship God, and they knew that a Messiah would come to redeem His people, but they did not have the full revelation of God.

Jesus revealed Himself to the Samaritan woman, and subsequently, He reveals Himself to those who hear and read the Gospel. Holy Scripture from beginning to end is the revelation of God’s Love for mankind, yet if His people never hear or understand what God has revealed through His Word, and through His Church, then we are no better than the Samaritans who only received part of the story. The responsibility for teaching God’s people falls upon the shoulders of the Church, specifically to the clergy whose job it is to ensure that Holy Scripture and the doctrines of the Church inform and enlighten this darkened world.

The magisterium is defined as the teaching authority of the Church. Literally, magister ludi in Latin means schoolmaster or teacher. In Roman Catholicism, the magisterium propagates and enforces the traditions and doctrines of the Faith informed by the words of Holy Scripture. In reality, should we of the Anglican Faith have any substantially different understanding of the concept? Did not Richard Hooker defend the Anglican Church against the Puritans by describing a paradigm where Scripture, Reason and Tradition were the proper ways to understand Anglican theology, liturgy and doctrine?

It is not insignificant that in his Address to the Academic Convocation at Nashotah House last Fall, Bishop Robert Duncan referred to an Anglican magisterium no less than 5 times. Clearly articulating the necessity for a revitalized teaching authority for the Anglican Community based on Holy Scripture and the Book of Common Prayer, he said, “A Church without a magisterium is soon no Church at all.”

This idea of an energized and proactive teaching authority surfaces in the lectionary. On the Feast of Leo X, we read Matthew 5: 13-19, a passage from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus assures his disciples, especially the 12 who are gathered around him, that He did not come to abolish the law or the prophets, but rather “to fulfill them”. On the heels of this statement, Christ issues a warning that we would be wise to heed today:

“Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5: 19 RSV)

On the Feast of the Consecration of Samuel Seabury, another reading hit home. As St. Paul made his final journey to Jerusalem before being sent to Rome for his execution, he landed in the port city of Miletus and sent to Ephesus for the elders of the Church to come and meet him. Knowing that his race was almost run, Paul tells them to “take heed to yourselves and all the flock” over whom the Holy Spirit has made them “overseers”. The Greek for overseer is episkopos.

Paul warns his episkopoi, bishops, about “fierce wolves” that will prey on the faithful from the outside of the community. Of greater danger, however, he warns that, “…from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20: 30 RSV) His advice: “Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” (Acts 20: 31 RSV)

The primary teaching authority of the Church resides with the Bishops. They are the defenders of the faith who are charged to order the instruction of those who are raised in the Faith or who choose by their own will to join the Church. The Episcopate is charged to raise up, educate and direct a knowledgeable and well trained clergy who are in turn given the practical task of teaching the people of God by instruction and example. The laity are responsible for actively taking part in the teaching of God’s Word through Bible studies, classes and participation with the clergy in learning and teaching. The laity is also responsible for providing a check on the clergy when they either fail to provide this education, or they advocate teachings that are contrary to the Scriptures or the doctrines and traditions of the Church. The magisterium must be prepared, as I believe many are, to stand firm in the Faith as received from Christ and delivered to this broken world through the Apostolic Succession of the Church.

In a sermon to Swiss Roman Catholic Bishops recently, Pope Benedict XVI instructed the leaders of the Church to actively combat the deepening cultural ambivalence towards religion.

“Pope Benedict said modern people refuse to believe or to live their faith fully because they do not really know God, and they have never really experienced his love for them. ‘Our task is to help so that people can taste, can feel again the goodness and greatness of God,’ he said.” Catholic News Service

Those whom God has chosen to serve Him in His Church must take seriously their roles as teachers and preachers of the Word and the traditions of the Church. God’s people must not be satisfied to worship a God that they do not know.

No comments: