Priests and Prophets

At the Anglican Mission in America conference I recently attended, there was a tendency among some to put Christ Jesus and his Bride, the Church, in opposition. While not wanting to get into various issues of ecclesiology (where equivocation is so endemic), I was glad to find [via Amy Welborn’s blog] an article by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on The Theological Locus of Ecclesial Movements [1998, Communio] which notes:

Before we pursue further this line of thought, we need to mention briefly a third proposal for explaining the duality [Gegenüber] between the permanent order of ecclesial life, on the one hand, and pneumatic movements, on the other. There is a certain tendency today that, building on Luther’s interpretation of Scripture in terms of the dialectic of law and gospel, opposes the cultic-sacerdotal aspect and the prophetic aspect of salvation history. On this reading, the movements would be ranged on the side of prophecy. This too, like the other proposals that we have considered so far, is not entirely false. It is, however, extremely inexact and for this reason unhelpful as it now stands. The issue raised in this connection is too big to be dealt with in detail here. The first thing that would have to be said in addressing this point is that the law itself has the character of a promise. It is only because the law has this character that Christ could fulfill it and, at the same time, “suspend” [aufheben] it in the act of fulfillment. Second, the writing prophets never meant to annul the Torah, but, on the contrary, to vindicate its true meaning against misuse. Finally, it is also important that the mission of prophecy was always entrusted to single persons and never became a settled class [Stand]. Insofar as prophecy claimed to be a “class,” it was criticized by the writing prophets just as sharply as the priestly “class” of the Old Testament. There is simply no warrant in Scripture for dividing the Church into a left and a right, into the prophetic class (represented by the orders or the movements), and the hierarchy. On the contrary: this is a construction that is completely foreign to scripture. The Church is not structured dialectically, but organically. It is correct, then, only that there are various functions in the Church, and that God continually stirs up prophetic men—they can be laypeople or religious, but also bishops and priests—who proclaim to it the right word that is not pronounced with sufficient force in the normal course of the “institution.” It is quite obvious I think that we cannot interpret the nature and task of the movements from this perspective. It certainly does not capture their own understanding of themselves.

Before getting into ecclesiology proper, I recall Lenny Bruce’s quip that “The Catholic Church is the church we mean when we say ‘the Church.’”

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