19 January 2011

Diaconia (3) {and the Patrimony of the Ordinariate}

The model of ministry which, aided by Collins, I have drawn from the Gregorian Sacramentary and which survived unperverted until Vatican II, is uncannily similar to what we find in one of the earliest writings associated with the Magisterium of the Roman Church: the First Epistle of Clement. Read Chapters 40-44. "To the High Priest his proper liturgiai are given, and to the priests (hiereusin) their own place is given in due order, and on the Levites their own diakoniai have been imposed." As Collins points out, the language in this passage "continues to refer exclusively to cult... so that 'the office of bishop' (episkope) which is under dispute is referring to the central function within Christian cult".

I Clement, and the Gregorian Sacramentary, see the Christian ministry in terms of the Old Testament Hebrew priesthood. The Bishop is the High Priest; the Deacons are the Levites. I know no trace in these early writings of the notion that Diakonia is to be read in terms of ideas drawn from Acts 6 about service to poor widows; no references, even, to S Stephen. Such allusions, such illustrations of the meaning of diaconate drawn from the text of Acts, are historically secondary or even tertiary. I here recall two observations of Dom Gregory Dix. The first is his insight that it was only in the third century that one starts to find Scripture, recently 'canonised', being used to support theological assertions; that previously the Tradition could be - and was - asserted without scriptural proof-texts (thus Trinitarian teaching did not draw support from Matthew 28:19, nor exercise of the Petrine Ministry from Matthew 16:18-19). He writes: "Unless we recognise the important change produced in Christian theological method by the definite canonisation of the NT Scriptures, which only begins to have its full effect after c.A.D. 180, we shall not understand the second-century Church ... hitherto the authoritative basis of Christian teaching had been simply 'Tradition', the living expression of the Christian revelation by the magisterium of the bishops, whose norm and standard of reference was the Tradition of Rome."

The second is Dix's awed confession of the antiquity of the Roman Rite: " The evidence of the scientific study of liturgy inclines more and more to show that the old Roman Sacramentaries have preserved into modern use an incomparably larger body of genuinely primitive - and by this I mean not merely pre-Nicene but second and even first century - Christian liturgical material (if only we know how to look for it) than any other extant liturgical documents."

It is one of the ironies of history that it was an Anglican scholar who perceived these things a single generation before the sacramental formulae of the Roman Rite fell into the hands of disrespectful vandals. (Those classical Anglican liturgists who, unlike Dix, did survive to witness the conciliar period ... Willis, Ratcliff ... left on record opinions about what was done in that decade which were not always terribly complimentary.)

What I am saying is this. The understanding of Christian ministry, including the Diaconate, as fundamentally and essentially cultic - embodied in the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice - which we find in the ancient Ordination prayers of the Roman Church, goes back to before the NT Scriptures were universally known and appropriated as normative. It is as early as that. The Reformation has left most Westerners - Catholic as well as Protestant - with a sub-conscious assumption that "going back to the New Testament" somehow implies going back to the earliest sources. Au contraire. There was a time when the incorporation into worship, teaching, and doctrine of elements or ideas borrowed from the NT was novel, revolutionary, and innovatory. (We might usefully remember that the authority of the book of Acts was - judging from the surviving evidence - not successful in generating the invention of the feast of the Ascension forty days after Easter until the second half of the fourth century.) The old Roman Ordination prayers are so archaic (if not in their actual texts, then in their conceptual matrix) as to go back to that period in the first and second centuries. Later writers (Irenaeus; Cyprian; Eusebius) do speculate upon a link between the Seven and the Diaconate; the Roman texts obviously antecede this Scripture-generated speculation.

The pre-Conciliar Pontifical preserved the 'Levitical' and cultic understanding of the Diaconate and knew nothing of the 'Service-to-the-poor' Diakonia which the twentieth century was to find so appealing. It shows no interest in the 'philanthropic' concept of Diakonia. There are mentions of S Stephen in the historically secondary parts of the rite; but it should not be thought that even the entrance of S Stephen into the Tradition, when it eventually occurs, automatically brought 'philanthropy' with it. The long medieval address Provehendi has, towards its end, a brief mention of S Stephen; but it is for for his chastity, not his philanthropy, that his example is commended to the ordinands. While the ancient Gregorian Consecratory Prayer mentions him not at all, the final prayer Domine sancte, an addition of Gallican origin, does allude to S Stephen and the Seven in passing: but is still principally concerned with the deacon as a man who serves at the sacred altars. This is hardly surprising. The text of Acts itself, after the debatable material in chapter 6, gives no evidence whatsoever for a reading of S Stephen and S Philip as having a 'concern' for the needy.

{It may interest Anglican readers to recall that the Prayer Book Ordinal, despite the strictures of Apostolicae curae, here, as in many areas, is in the pre-conciliar tradition of the Roman Rite before the Improvers got at it: it expands the old Sarum Oportet formula as follows: "It appertaineth to the office of a deacon, in the church where he shall be appointed to serve, to assist the Priest in Divine Service, and specially when he ministereth the Holy Communion ...".}



benedictambrose said...

Entirely off the top of my head, I suppose this liturgical origin of the diaconate might explain someting about St Lawrence that has never before struck me as requiring an explanation at all, viz., why he was expected by the persecutors to be in a position to hand over the "treasures" of the Church.

If he was responsible in large part for assisting at the Sacred Liturgy, he would presuamably have access to (and perhaps, like a sacristan, custodianship of) the sacred vessels, etc., quite independently of whether he was also some sort of treasurer in a broader sense.

The purest, idlest speculation, of course.

William Tighe said...

But should one write

"this liturgical origin"

as opposed to "this origin in the synagogue and its transformation and linkage to worship due to the uniquely Christian office of the episcopate?" As I recall, Dix speculated that just as the Christian presbyterate was a transformation of the Jewish office of synagogue elders (zeqenim), so the diaconate originated from the humble position of synagogue "custodian" or "beadle" (the chazzan).

Vincent de Paul said...

I know nothing of the origin or date of the prayers for blessing of sacerdotal vestments in the pre-Vatican II Rituals but in all three prayers the vestments are described as being sanctified for Bishops, Priests and Levites.

Joshua said...

And, let's be honest, whatever of 'permanent' deacons (surely a very patronizing term, akin to the sentiment that a man too ignorant to be a priest could be a religious brother as a sop to his hurt feelings) since VII doing works of charity, nearly all deacons down the ages have conspicuously not done so, but rather attended to their actual duties.

When Pope Gregory the Great was apocrisarius in Constantinople, he was as it were in the position of High Commissioner or Agent General - he wasn't there as

St Francis was a deacon - but he was such primarily to preach the Gospel; if you'd have commented to him about diakonia as being so proper to his ministry to the poor he'd have told you that Lady Poverty and the love of souls moved him, as all Christians ought be moved.

Certainly, in the case of 'transitional' deacons, the seminarians thus ordained en route to priesthood hardly become so enthused by their new grace of state that they run off into the slums to run soup kitchens!

Joshua said...

Correction to 2nd para.:

When Pope Gregory the Great was apocrisarius in Constantinople, he was as it were in the position of High Commissioner or Agent General - he wasn't there as social justice coordinator for Aid to the Church in Need.