A month or so ago, someone asked an acute question. I had made some remarks about Incardination. The 'someone' had remembered my constant teaching in the past about how a Particular Church consists of Bishop, Presbyterate, Diaconate, Laos, bound together structurally and sacramentally. So How Come that I appeared now to be advocating a situation in which a presbyter might not be bound by incardination to his Bishop ... or, putting it differently, to his Particular Church?
There are large problems about the roles and relationships of the Three Orders in the modern Latin Church. For example; Deacons were supposed to be the outreach of the Bishop for property, and for notifying him about the needs of the poor, and that sort of thing [forget the silly twentieth century myth that they represent Ministry to the Poor and Disadvantaged ... that's nonsense, and if you want to, you can look at my articles on the Diaconate via the Search Engine on this Blog]. By the twentieth century, deacons had become apprentice priests, young clerics moving through the Diaconate to the Presbyterate in just six months or so. The changes following Vatican II introduced a permanent Diaconate of often part-time parochial assistants. (I had better add that Bishop Egan of Portsmouth does have a real ante-Nicene Deacon, who runs his diocesan finances and quite a lot besides this. But Dr Egan is not an ordinary bishop). If married diaconal viri probati are allowed to be ordained to the presbyterate, Permanent Deacons will have disappeared in a generation. Betcha.
Episcopacy is in a right old mess, too. As we all know, earlier Christian centuries regarded it as adultery for a bishop to move from See to See. Now ... er ...
And, even worse, the Episcopal Character is devalued by being sprayed like cheap and vulgar confetti all over bureaucrats and diplomats. Nuncios need to be 'Archbishops', it seems, to give them status vis-a-vis local hierarchs. Dicasterial Secretaries also have a status that ineluctably demands that they be adorned with a mitre. There may be few things that Walter Kasper and I agree upon, but one of them concerns this particular corruption: the idea that Episcopacy is essentially all about status in a bureaucratic pecking order. Curiously, PF is normally vastly impressed by Cardinal Kasper, but not in this particular matter. I wonder why.
And Presbyters? In earlier centuries, the presbyterate was the executive committee of the Particular Church. The evidence suggests that a Bishop could not even ordain a subdeacon without the permission of the Presbyterate; could not, while the system of public Penance continued, absolve a grave sinner without the consent of his presbyters. Dom Gregory Dix gathered materials (Jurisdiction in the Early Church: Episcopal and Papal) suggesting that, in the first centuries, the Bishop was the High Priest and Apostolic Teacher of his Church; jurisdiction in anything remotely like our sense resided in the Presbyterate.
It would, of course, be childish to advocate turning all these clocks back to A.D. 300. Nor am I foolishly advocating a rebellious or cantankerous attitude towards those who occupy the structures prescribed by the present Code of Canon Law. On the contrary. How could that serve the Kingship of Christ?
However, nothing stays the same; and, as we face moving on, it is a good idea to have clear and accurate notion of where North, South, East, and West all lie. It may indeed be some time before the Latin Church radically recalibrates its current Ministerial Structures. But I think it is worth turning a bit of a spotlight on the most dysfunctional area of Ministry: the Episcopate. Bishops are a thoroughly problematic feature in the post-conciliar Church; some of them are currently trying to claw in power from the Church Universal or to set themselves above Tradition; and simultaneously they crave more power over their own presbyters and deacons. Some of them have a curious idea that 'Subsidiarity' means 'All power to the Bishop' or 'All power to the Conference' or 'All power to the Conference's Bureaucracy'. As I argued recently, this culture may lead to problems in spheres including the liturgical, if overblown bishops or conferences or bureaucracies regard themselves as liberated from regulation, above Tradition, and wilfully attempt to force their own whimsical liturgical preferences on presbyters and people.
What might the distant future hold in terms of a restored episcopate? Perhaps some of us did experience just a merest, tiniest hint of that when, in an apostate Church of England, 'Flying Bishops' provided us with a pastoral and priestly model of Episcopacy. I remember Mgr Barnes, now the emeritus Bishop of Richborough, saying "Fathers, remember that we have no jurisdiction but what you give us". Yet it was those men who "had no jurisdiction" who gathered a People for God in the days that led up to the erection of the Ordinariates.