19 February 2020

An oligarchy of mediocrities?

What is a Bishop? In the early centuries ... not that I am suggesting the immutability of patterns ... but let's see how this goes ... the bishop was the Man of his Church; chosen within the local Christian Gathering (ekklesia); consecrated for them by bishops representing the Catholica; but destined to remain their Apostolic Man until he died (Translation=Adultery)*. He was the Pastor of a Congregation; and when church buildings became common, he had his cathedra, his chair of teaching and ruling, situated in the church building of his congregation, in the midst of the people he pastored Sunday by Sunday and day by day. Some of us have experience of how something like this still works out in some Orthodox communities ... I did in South London ... and a very lovely sight it is too, as the the hairdressers and cafe owners and hospital attendants and wide-boys drifted in to seek his guidance or, most commonly, simply to gossip with the man whose hand they kissed as he made them a cup of coffee.

We are, of course, unwise to try to impose too rigid an interpretation on any institution. In the early centuries, there were chorepiskopoi who ran around the countryside bishoping; we know very little about how their episkope operated - there is some evidence that at least some them really did have sees, however small the village - but the story of this institution makes clear that they were viewed with unease, restricted, and finally eliminated ... as Anglicans might say, the 'period of reception' led to their rejection by the Church. I would see them as a tentative first attempt to deal with the new problems which arose as the Church moved into the countryside. More recent centuries have known the custom of bishops with merely titular sees, both in the East and in the West; I rather agree with what John Zizioulas wrote about this practice ... trigger warning of a catty bit ... before he became Metropolitan of Pergamon. I venture, however, to suggest that in such side-roads we do not discern the essence of Episcopacy.

In much of the first millennium, a Bishop was the Man of his Church in the sense that the People might very well have known him since his childhood; had, perhaps, seen him ordained in their midst as diakonos while a young man; had watched him mature over the years; become Archidiakonos; serve for decades as the Right Hand Man of the Old Bishop both at the altar and in Church affairs; until, upon the old gentleman's demise, he seemed the obvious successor. Such a system enhanced the stability of the paradosis of a Church; diminished the risk of Clever People with New Ideas getting their shifty hands upon the tiller of God's Church. If a bishop taught a different doctrine ex cathedra from what he taught last week, or from what his predecessor had taught, it would be noticed. Corporate Memory should lie at the heart of  'Magisterium'.

In the Church of England, diocesans used to be appointed by the Crown, which was an outrageous system but did at least from time to time provide a bishop of outstanding ability who might not have been successful in a more 'democratic' set-up. This system was reformed so that a Vacancy in See Committee now submits names for formal approval. On the face of it, this system, with representation of the local Church, the wider Church, and the local community, has a lot to be said for it. In fact, as Canon Gary Bennet pointed out in a notorious Crockfords Preface, it leads to a self-perpetuating oligarchy of mediocrities. Because: those committees almost always play for safety by prefering a man who has served as a suffragan [assistant] bishop. And every suffragan is nominated by a diocesan. And diocesans have a deeply rooted fear of appointing a subordinate who will outshine them. Hence the appallingly low quality of the present Anglican episcopate.

Bennet also observed how very many of those elevated by the Anglican system had curricula vitae which intersected with that of Archbishop Runcie. Heaven forbid that a similar accusation could ever be levelled at the CBCEW!


Did the CBCEW investigations into Kieran Conry unearth any answer to the important question: How much did Cormac know about Kieran's activities before the latter's Consecration?

Since the CBCEW has not answered this question, it would be nice if the Independent Inquiry were to do so. But I suppose it will (sadly) be deemed outside their remit. Fingers crossed, however!

I am sure readers will recall the immortal exchange between Bertie Stanhope and Bishop Proudie:.
Bishop Translations are occasionally made, but not so frequently as in former days.
Bertie They've cut them all down to pretty nearly the same figure, haven't they?
i.e. the Ecclesiastical Commission had made the revenues of most sees the same by amalgamating and then dividing equally the ancient endowments, inequalities in which had hitherto fuelled the incessant quest of Whig episcopal oligarchs to get themselves translated to wealthier sees.


GOR said...

In the “Yes, Prime Minister” episode on filling an episcopal vacancy, Sir Humphrey enlightens the PM on the real behind the scenes wrangling engaged upon prior to arriving at a decision. One might have expected considerations such as devotion to duty, adherence to doctrine, personal holiness and so on, to be prime considerations, right?

Not a bit of it! The successful candidate must be “one of us”, a “safe pair of hands” and one who “knows which fork to use”. It is the ‘Old Boy Network’ in operation.

While the episode is aimed at the C of E, it is not hard to imagine - mutatis mutandis- similar machinations in deciding the Terna in the Catholic Church. Here in the USA a quick glance at the bishop-making results of people like McCarrick, Bernardin, Mahoney et al. aptly demonstrate how the process works.

If one likened it to a political machine, one wouldn’t be very far wrong.

Unknown said...

It is always a good thing to spell people's names correctly. They tend to like it. In the case of my old EH III tutor at New College: Garry Bennett. He may not be able to point it out himself now, but one day he will!

Unknown said...

That remark about the spelling of Garry's name was not meant to appear as by "Unknown", but I can't see how to post with a name, although I think I have done it before.

Dom Christopher Lazowski

Et Expecto said...

With regard to Bishop Conry, there are reports that he was seen in Rome with a particular woman whilst he was on his pre-consecration retreat, thirteen years before his resignation. If you ask more or less any Arundel and Brighton priest who was around at the time, you will be told that Bishop Conry's amorous adventures were well known throughout his time as bishop.

The most charitable interpretation is that Murphy O'Connor did not believe the rumours that were circulating, and did not take the trouble to investigate further.

Woody said...

Dear Father, I trust that there may be one or at least a few exceptions to your unfavorable view of the quality of the Anglican episcopate. I think in particular of Bishop Philip North, formerly guardian of the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, am I wrong?