Friday, 3 December 2010

Even-handedness with the Holy Spirit

I read a blog comment elsewhere which brought into focus a niggle I have, and one that I have expressed on here before. It is about the distinctivness of priests and laity. 

The argument goes that priests do not have special 'powers' (a term often used but not my own) and that we are not ontologically changed  - that our inner-being is not changed as we are made priests. The implications for this are significant.
Send down the Holy Spirit on your servant N for the office and work of a priest in your Church.
This is moment of ordination, the moment when the Spirit is invoked and the ordinand changed by the grace and intervention of God through his Spirit in the laying on of hands. If this is not the case, we have to say the same for any change brought about by
Confirm, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit.
 and if we have to say the same for that, then we have to say the same for any change born of
N, I baptize you
in the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.
...and I doubt that any would argue that through baptism we are not changed. To me, at least, we cannot pick and choose, simply because a heart for inclusiveness finds distinctiveness awkward. We have a role and a charism, and I think that those to whom we minister rather count on it.

Quotes taken from the Common Worship provisions for those Rites


  1. Maybe the caveat is that if we start to believe we are different, then we lose touch with others. I've seen and worked with too many clergy who have become self-opinionated and disdainful of others simply because they believe that their ordination makes them "different". There's no doubt that it sets us aside to do a specific task in the kingdom, but "different"? I know only too well how much my human nature remains a reality. I walk the same path towards (and away from) God as everyone else, despite my "setting aside" of ordination. In that sense I am no different from any other follower of Christ.

  2. We do indeed count on it, and I remember clearly the feeling I had when I was Confirmed over 20 years ago, the only other time I felt almost the same was when my daughter was Christened. I truly believe that priests, ministers, vicars, nuns, deacons and all others who give their lives to the church, would not be able to do it if the Holy Spirit had not changed them in some way.

  3. Oh my word, SR - I completely agree. Messiah complexes are so damaging! I think perhaps the 'walking with' and 'walking as' is as important as the 'change' - but the 'change' so often seems to be wiped away in the interests of PC and faux-enablement

    ...just feel like I need to bang the drum for priests too, as we are fast becoming an unfashionable fact of Christian life in so many circles

    Thanks to you both for your comments, and great blogs the both of you!

  4. Just because a prayer is prayed, does not mean a prayer is answered! If I prayed for the Holy Spirit to descend on my cat, that would not necessarily fill the cat with the Holy Spirit.

    The point is not trivial! We have a scriptural warrant for baptism, for example, that we certainly do not have for confirmation. Thus I personally wouldn't feel inclined to accept the argument that the one thing implies the other unquestioningly.

    Perhaps we need, therefore, to look more closely at our prayers.

    Having said that, I certainly need the help of the Spirit to live as a Christian and to work as a minister. But I do not accept that this is ontologically different from a Christian in any other calling.

    Sorry - but there it is.

  5. Hi John - no 'sorry' required here! Say it as you see it, and no other way.

    I am with you all the way on things not being in our control. Prayers are requests and not all are answered. I also agree with you on the matter of confirmation as I have an absolute view on the sacrament of baptism as sufficient. I was aiming to be illustrative, or perhaps emphatic.

    The reason why the prayers to which I refer are to be regarded differently is, I believe, in the fact that they are grounded in process and discernment - if we are talking ordination. I regard the Spirit as present at point of call, point of selection, through training, all before the prayer of ordination. I believe the prayer of ordination is answered because God is in the groundwork and lead up to it - very directly I think.

    The cat thing I accept, though we bless things, like unleavened bread. I would hope that no priest would bless frivalously (sp?) anyway.

    Your sentimnents about all things in God's help - I am with you every step of the way there.

    On your last point, I would be interested (in the positive sense of that) to know how (or if) you identify your distinctiveness as a minister (sorry, if I have applied 'priest' wrongly at any point to you)

  6. As someone who's had a fair bit of experience amongst Roman Catholics as well as the CofE, I'd say that the CofE actually suffers more from clergy-messiah complex than the RCs (at least in England0. The reason for this is (I believe) due to the fact that the RCs have a clear and accepted understanding of priesthood. Anglicans don't, and so clergy often find themselves on the defensive.

    Those of us of a catholic disposition often find ourselves at odds with many in the church, not least the bureaucrats who seem intent on reducing the priesthood to little more than a management role (albeit one with rather fancy work clothes). That may make us prickly at times, but I think it comes from an insecurity about who we are and what we're meant to be doing. It's one thing to be misunderstood by the world, another to be misunderstood by the church!

    RCs, on the whole, don't have this kind of conflict over identity (it certainly isn't as pronounced). Now, they may be wrong in their idea of priesthood (I don't believe so, quelle surprise) but at least there's a commonly accepted idea of priesthood.

    In a strange way, RCs can often be less clericalist than the CofE. By having a clear doctrine of priesthood they have a clear doctrine of the laity... and don't feel that you have to be wearing robes or go on a course to do something in church.

  7. Beautifully put - and I recognise all that you say! Thank you

  8. I'm afraid I'm another who finds it hard to speak of ontological changes. I view the priesthood which I hold as being Christ's. He is the priest and I am one who's job in the body of Christ is to manifest his priesthood to the people. What I have is a calling.

    As to the ordination prayer, I also pray the spirit will descend on the bread and wine at communion and that it will fall on the people gathered at the communion ("Send the Holy Spirit on your people"). In these, as with ordination, I understand a real presence not a change of substance. Perhaps I am incorrigibly protestant! The words simply pray for the Spirit to be present, and make no claims as to changes of being.

    I do hold with an ontological change, though. It's at the point where we are incorporated into Christ and become 'new Creations'.



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