8 April 2023

How Aaronic is a Catholic Bishop?

In one of the earliest documents of the Roman Magisterium, important teaching is imparted regarding Episcopal (and other) Ministry. The basis of this teaching is an intimately close parallel drawn between the Christian Ministry; and that of the 'Old Covenant'. The High Priest, the priests, the deacons all have their own ministries (archiereus; hiereis; diakonoi; leitourgiai). Each has the appointed rule of his leitourgia. The point is forced home so rigorously that 'Jerusalem' is rather awkwardly drawn into the argument; and the, er, death penalty is mentioned in regard to those who disregard the rules.

When the earliest surviving liturgical formulae of that same Roman Church are reviewed, we find precisely the same fierce determination to see the Christian summi sacerdotii ministerium in Judaic terms. Typological methodology lends a hand in supporting the argument (aenigmata figurarum); and careful symbolic meaning is given to the Mosaic "radiance of gold, sparkling of jewels".

When Vatican II put together its mandates on the Rites of Ordination, very little change was clearly envisaged. In what seems to me one of the most remarkable and significant sections of Sacrosanctum Concilium, a couple of massively unrevolutionary suggestions are offered (76): the allocutiones  of the presiding bishop might be done (fieri possunt) in the vernacular; in Episcopal Consecration, the imposition of hands may lawfully be done (fieri licet) by all the bishops present.

Wow, with pardonable irony, you all exclaim. How very very underwhelming.

You're right.

Those two little possibilities give us a clear indication of how limited an agenda the bishops who subscribed to this document (including Lefebvre and his chums) thought they were signing up to. Even a ridiculus mus could hardly describe this shopping list as revolutionary.

Unsurprisingly, when the post-Conciliar coetus got to work, some of its members appear to have been less than happy. All the stuff about the spiritual meanings of the external vestiary splendours of the Aaronic priesthood seems to have, er, grated upon some readers. Not very 1960s!

But Dom Bernard Botte was at hand. He pointed out that there was ... happily available ... a very ancient Prayer of Episcopal Consecration which was of indisputably Roman origin; and which steered well clear of Hebrew Needlework. It was the answer to every and to everybody's need. It was, with acclamation, adopted by the Coetus and by Higher Authority; and, since then, has been used in all the episcopal consecrations of the Latin mainstream Churches. 

This is just the sort of combination of brilliant and wide-ranging scholarship, and of imaginative ressourcement, that the circumstances called for. Here we see the Council at its fantastic best.

However ...

Or, if you prefer it, But ...

That old Prayer, according to the academic consensus of this millennium, is ... not of Roman origin at all. The certainty of the 1960s, that the document containing it was by a Roman cleric called Hippolytus ... that it was, in fact, the Apostolic Tradition Hippolytus is known to have written ... is now accepted by, I think, nobody.


But Dom Botte was fascinated by it. In fact, a big part of his own academic reputation rested on the fact that he had produced a (fine) scholarly edition of the work.

Academic consensuses come ... and, my goodness gracious me, they so often go ... and so fast. Classicists, as well as Liturgists, have enormous experience of this. Sometimes, as in this case, departing certainties leave behind them in the landscape massive structural evidences of the glorious, glamorous days when they ruled the roost.

Botte was a superb scholar. But the more a scholar enjoys an incredible reputation, possibly the less he should be given a free hand.

Mind you, this prayer is certainly both valid and licit. But it is not Roman and it does not embody the genius or the characteristic style and spirit of the Roman Rite. As with the disappearance of Abraham from thepost-Conciliar Canon, we have here another significant piece of constructive Anti-semitism.

On this day when, very probably, many of the Bishops recorded as having received Consecration at the hands of the Roman Pontiff himself may have received their charisma, this is a proper matter of consideration.

[It had been used for centuries in Eastern communities whose ministries Rome had for centuries accepted: and, for Rome, quite rightly, when it comes to strict and formal questions of validity, it is precedent that counts.]

1 comment:

Banshee said...

Apparently the idea was that high priestly vestments were essentially like the Temple in its elements, as if the high priest was moving around in a little protective Temple or room of the Temple.

At the same time, the vestments portray Adam's splendor before the Fall, because there was an idea that Adam was clothed in light by God, and in his God-given authority and graces. (Eve too, of course, but that is not relevant here.) So there is all that Bible stuff about the high priest in his vestments, because it is pointing to this.

And the high priest also represented all twelve tribes and had them on his breastplate, so he was a sort of Jacob figure; and therefore also Isaac and Abraham, most likely.

So it is not like we made all this stuff up. It is all very solid and old.