The Use of Authority part IV: Authority is Mutual

In the Christian understanding, exercise of authority is always mutual. Authority is given within the body, for the body, but it can never supplant the authority of the members of the body either in their own areas of responsibility OR for the responsibility of the one for the whole:

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free-and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way. (1 Cor 12.15-31)

Returning to my initial concern, that of misconduct in the Church. Based on the above, I would suggest that the enforcing of laws, even punishment and requiring (where possible) restitution for harm done, are not only NOT contrary to the exercise of authority within the Church, but in fact consonant with its exercise and even necessity.

When, as AK and Mark allude to, we minimize sexual misconduct by clergy, and/or ignore or minimize the needs of victims, we have failed to exercise authority in a Christ pleasing manner. The problem, as I see it, is less that a monastery offers hospitality to a defrocked priest but more if no one in the Church offers hospitality to those who suffered the consequences of the misconduct that lead to the priest’s removal from the ranks of the clergy.

Likewise, we must be critical of the exercise of authority that has as its goal the “reputation” of the Church if good opinion of others comes at the expense of those who were harmed. Paul is not indifferent to how those of good heart outside the Church view the Church. Indeed, this is part of why he dismisses from fellowship the incestuous couple and requires that the use of tongues be limited within the assembly.

I will conclude these reflects tomorrow by arguing that, paradoxical thought it may seem, in the Church we must exercise authority is such a way that we bear the contempt of the world precisely for the life of the world.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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