Friday, 9 December 2016

Like people, like priest

The Matins reading for Friday in the second week of Advent in the traditional Office is from Isaiah 24, which presents a vision of the devastation God will unleash on a disobedient world:
Behold the Lord shall lay waste the earth, and shall strip it, and shall afflict the face thereof, and scatter abroad the inhabitants thereof...With desolation shall the earth be laid waste, and it shall be utterly spoiled: for the Lord hath spoken this word... 
Failure to teach

And what is the cause of this devastation?  The second verse of the chapter alludes to a range of people abusing their positions, but the Fathers mostly focused in on the first up in the list, viz priests:
And it shall be as with the people, so with the priest...
The verse echoes a similar phrase in Hosea, which comes in the midst of a condemnation of priests for failing to teach the people:
My people have been silent, because they had no knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will reject thee, that thou shalt not do the office of priesthood to me: and thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I also will forget thy children.  According to the multitude of them so have they sinned against me: I will change their glory into shame.  They shall eat the sins of my people, and shall lift up their souls to their iniquity.  And there shall be like people like priest: and I will visit their ways upon them, and I will repay them their devices.  And they shall eat and shall not be filled: they have committed fornication, and have not ceased: because they have forsaken the Lord in not observing his law. Fornication, and wine, and drunkenness take away the understanding...
Teaching, or failing to do so, by example

St Gregory the Great, for example in his Homily 19 on the Gospels, laments that those those who should set an example in their conduct too often turn out to be wolves rather than shepherds:
We are put as guards in the vineyards, but we do not cultivate our own.  ..I think that God suffers greater outrage from no one, dearly beloved, than from priests.  Those he has placed to reprove others he sees giving an example of wickedness in their own lives.  We who ought to have restrained sin, ourselves commit it.  More seriously, priests who ought to give of their own possessions frequently plunder the goods of others.  If they see others living humbly and chastely, they often make fun of them.  
Consider what will become of the flocks when wolves become shepherds!  They undertake to guard the flock and are not afraid to waylay the Lord's flock...What is written in Hosea is truyly fulfilled in us: And so it will be, like people, like priest.
 And what should we do in the face of this?

 St Gregory of Nazianzen urges, if necessary, the laity to go to war with their priests:
Nor indeed is there any distinction between the state of the people and that of the priesthood: but it seems to me to be a simple fulfilment of the ancient curse, As with the people so with the priest. Nor again are the great and eminent men affected otherwise than the majority; nay, they are openly at war with the priests, and their piety is an aid to their powers of persuasion. 
And indeed, provided that it be on behalf of the faith, and of the highest and most important questions, let them be thus disposed, and I blame them not; nay, to say the truth, I go so far as to praise and congratulate them. Yea! Would that I were one of those who contend and incur hatred for the truth's sake: or rather, I can boast of being one of them. For better is a laudable war than a peace which severs a man from God: and therefore it is that the Spirit arms the gentle warrior, as one who is able to wage war in a good cause. (Oration 2:82)
We have seen this happening increasingly, with two small but significant victories in Melbourne and Sydney in recent weeks in Australia.

There is much more to be done, however, particularly given that the fish rots from the head..


Gervase Crouchback said...

Thank you kate for this and for yuor return-however brief to the blogosphere.

Kate Edwards said...

Thanks GC, not sure how long I will be back, but in these challenging times, it seems necessary...