«The Vision Before Us Compiled and Edited by Sarah Rowland Jones The Vision Before Us The Kyoto Report of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on ...»
between this minister and the local Christian community and, by intention, the Church universal.’ (BEM, ‘Ministry’, 40-42) Ordained ministry is not only a gift of the Spirit. It is also a representative ministry. While all baptised Christians represent Christ and the church, the ordained ministry represents Christ and the church in particular ways. In his book A Ministry Shaped by Mission Paul Avis explores the concept of representation as applied to the ordained ministry. According to Avis, the ordained ministry does not act as intermediary between God and the community, but represents God to the community and the community to God. The ordained minister represents Christ to a community which is already united to Christ in baptism. The ordained ministry acts as the representative and organ of the whole body in the exercise of responsibilities which belong to the body as a whole. Does the ordained minister represent Christ or the Church? Does the ordained minister act in persona Christi or in persona ecclesiae? Avis argues that this is a false dichotomy.
The concept of in persona Christi is important, because it brings out the relationship between the ordained ministry and the High Priesthood of Christ, especially in relation to eucharistic presidency. The concept of in persona ecclesiae is equally important in bringing out the role of the ordained ministry as representative of the whole baptised community.
Together, the two concepts express the patristic notion of the ‘whole Christ,’ Head and members joined together.
The understanding of ordained ministry as a gift of the Spirit and as a representative ministry together with the language of ‘sign’ and ‘symbol’ used in ecumenical agreements in connection with the ordained ministry challenge a purely functional understanding of ordained ministry, including episcopal ministry. ‘Because Christ’s ministry is present to us only through the Spirit, ecclesial ministry is necessarily charismatic. For the same reason, it is relational. The nexus of relationships established by the Spirit creates a new way of being, which transforms both the one ordained and those for whom he is ordained, making it futile to debate whether ordained ministry in the church is functional or ontological in nature.’50 BEM points in this direction when it speaks of ordination as establishing a ‘new relation’ between the ordained minister and the local and universal church.
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Ordained ministry is neither a status nor a set of functions, but a charism of the Spirit. It is a gift and a service to the community.
A further guiding principle articulated by BEM and repeated in EMAC and numerous ecumenical agreements is that ‘the ordained ministry should be exercised in a personal, collegial, and communal way. It should be personal because the presence of Christ among his people can most effectively be pointed to by the person ordained to proclaim the Gospel and to call the community to serve the Lord in unity of life and witness. It should also be collegial, for there is need for a college of ordained ministers sharing in the common task of representing the concerns of the community. Finally, the intimate relationship between the ordained ministry and the community should find expression in a communal dimension where the exercise of the ordained ministry is rooted in the life of the community and requires the community’s effective participation in the discovery of God’s will and the guidance of the Spirit.’ (BEM, ‘Ministry’, 26) Today the great majority of Lutheran and Anglican churches ordain both women and men, reflecting new theological reflection in both our churches on the relationship between gender and ministry, and expressing ‘the conviction that the mission of the church’ needs ‘the gifts of both men and women in the ordained ministry … as a sign of God’s reconciled Kingdom (Galatians 3.27-28)’. (EMAC, p.3) Women exercise episcopal ministry in several Anglican provinces and Lutheran churches.
III. Episkope and Episcopos Historical scholarship and ecumenical agreements concur in their judgment that the New Testament bears witness to a variety of forms of ordained ministry and that it was not until the second and third centuries that the ‘threefold pattern of bishop, presbyter and deacon became established as the pattern of ordained ministry thoughout the Church.’ (BEM, ‘Ministry’, 19) There is ecumenical agreement that pastoral oversight (episkope) is an essential strand in this witness, but the New Testament does not allow us to assert that it was exercised by a uniform structure of ministry inherited directly from or transmitted by the apostles. As the Niagara Report asserts, it is this ministry of ‘oversight or presiding ministry which constitutes the heart of the episcopal office’. (Niagara, 54) In the early patristic period this ministry of oversight (episkope) found its focus historically in the office of the bishop.
Historians commonly agree that there are three principal images or models of the office of a bishop in the pre-Nicene church, which are best exemplified in Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus, and Cyprian.51 For
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Ignatius, the bishop is primarily the one who presides at the eucharist.
This is central for Ignatius because of his understanding of the nature of the church. ‘The church, in Ignatius’ view, is essentially eucharistic by nature: there is an organic relation between the Body of Christ understood as community, and the Body of Christ understood as sacrament. For Ignatius, then, the bishop is … the one who presides at … the eucharistic liturgy.’52 The theme of unity and the interdependent relationship between one bishop, one eucharistic body, and one church is common in his writings. ‘The context of the emphasis on unity in Ignatius, of course, must be kept in mind. Ignatius is writing at a time when there was probably only one bishop for any city and also no more than one eucharistic assembly for any city; a situation which greatly reinforced the bishop’s function as the visible focus of unity …’53 Irenaeus, on the other hand, while echoing the eucharistic teaching of Ignatius, places primary emphasis on the bishop’s role as teacher of the faith. The context here is the conflict with Gnosticism. For Irenaeus, the bishop is above all the one who preserves the continuity of apostolic teaching in unbroken succession from the apostles. It is through the bishop’s faithful proclamation of the Gospel in each local church that the unity of the church and the continuity of the church in the apostolic tradition is preserved.
For Cyprian, the bishop serves as the bond of unity between the local church and the universal church. Here the collegial aspect of the bishop’s role comes to the fore. The bishop is one member of a worldwide ‘college’ of bishops who are together responsible for maintaining the unity of the churches. Cyprian’s primary emphasis, therefore, is upon the bishop as the bond of unity between the local church and the church universal. In his treatise De Unitate Ecclesia ‘he stresses the conciliar or collegial character of the worldwide episcopate, of bishops meeting in council and together reaching a common mind under the Spirit’s guidance, and so he calls our attention to this conciliar and collegial feature of any episcopate that would claim to be truly ‘historic’ … Each bishop shares in the one episcopate, not as having part of the whole but as being an expression of the whole; just as there are many local churches but one universal church, so there are many individual bishops but only one worldwide episcopate.’54 In each of these models, therefore, the bishop is the sign of unity between the local and the universal church, either through the maintenance of eucharistic communion, continuity in apostolic teaching, or common oversight of the churches.
There is, however, a deeper theological unity to these models than is apparent from what has been said so far. As Mark Dyer has pointed out, the early church considered episcopal ministry to be a divine gift for the preservation and nurture of communion (koinonia) with the Triune
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God. ‘The bishop is called by God from within God’s People to serve the mystery of our communion with one another and with God. The ministry of the episcopate is a series of sacred acts that serve, preserve and nurture communion. As president of the eucharistic assembly, chief teacher of the Word of God and the Holy Tradition, sign of unity between the local church and the church universal,’55 the bishop is a sign that communion in the one body of Christ, the church, involves communion in the very life of the Triune God. This communion is nurtured by the life of prayer, which finds its centre in the liturgy. That is why the presidency of the eucharist is at the heart of the bishop’s ministry. ‘In celebrating the Eucharistic meal the Church, in time, becomes identified with and prefigures that communion with God the Holy Trinity that will come when the kingdom of God is finally established. Word and sacraments signify the church’s essential participation in the mystery of the life of God.’56 As the Orthodox theologian John Erickson observes, ‘the church … cannot be understood simply in sociological categories. It is above all a sacramental reality, which ‘finds its model, its origin, and its purpose in the mystery of God, one in three Persons …’ At the same time, the church is not an abstraction. Rather, it is a ‘local’ reality, ‘placed’ in the midst of the world to be the prototype of renewed human community. It is a koinonia which most fully realises itself in the eucharistic assembly of the local church, gathered around the bishop or the priest in communion with him as one body. This koinonia is eschatological, in that it anticipates’ and models life in the coming reign of God. ‘It is also kerygmatic,’ since it announces and realises the proclamation in the liturgical assembly. ‘Within this context of communion, the bishop exercises a ministry which is’ not primarily administrative, but organic and sacramental; therefore presiding at the eucharist lies at the heart of the episcopal role.
The early church reflects a theology of ministry in general, and of the episcopal office in particular, which is both charismatic and relational.
The koinonia of the one Body of Christ is built up through the mutual interdependence of the gifts of ministry bestowed by the one Spirit. The bishop ‘stands at the heart of the local church as the minister of the Spirit to discern the charisms and take care that they are exercised in harmony, for the good of all, in faithfulness to the apostolic tradition. He puts himself at the service of the initiatives of the Spirit, so that nothing may prevent them from contributing to building up koinonia.’’57 The episcopal office should be ‘focused on the bishop’s relation to the entire worshipping community, animating and orchestrating its diverse gifts …’58 The thread which unifies the bishop’s various roles, therefore, is the the nurturing of communion within and among the churches for the sake of
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the building up of their communion with one another and with the Triune God. This understanding of the unity of the bishop’s office fits well not only with the understanding of the episcopal office in the early church, but also with the emphasis on a communion ecclesiology, which has guided a great deal of recent ecumenical work as exemplified in both multilateral and bilateral ecumenical dialogues. This communion has both an historical and an eschatological aspect. The bishop is both a sign of the communion of the churches with one another in time and in space and a sign of the eschatological fulfilment of communion with the Triune God, a foretaste of which we already share in the eucharist. This tension between the historical and the eschatological dimensions of ecclesial communion and the bishop’s role in its nurture is developed by the Orthodox theologian and bishop John Zizioulas in his book Being as Communion.59 Zizioulas explores this tension as a way of understanding the nature of apostolic continuity in the church, and in particular the meaning of apostolic succession. It can also be explored as a sign of promise which allows for the possibility of steps or stages along the way towards the full communion of the churches. In a divided church, all churches stand in a position of imperfect communion with one another. As Avery Dulles has observed, ‘the theology of communion admits of many degrees and modalities …’60 The establishment and maintenance of communion is an ongoing ecumenical project, which will only be realised in steps and stages as the churches seek to grow towards the goal of full communion.