Authority and the Church

Florin Paladie comes with a new theological elaboration, this time discussing how church and scripture relate to the concept of authority.
Here is the comment I have left on his blog on this post:
‘Dear Florin,
Like you, and by virtue of the same kind of experience, only a little bit longer than yours, and a little bit more ‘bumpy’, I am instinctively worry of authority> Yet, again similarly, I am engaged in the adventure of progressively redeeming the value of this concept.
In what Scripture and the Church are concerned, as related to the concept of authority, I would add to this couple of items the concept of Tradition. The Triad thus formed allows for a more dynamic rendering of the relations of authority between its components.
I have been inspired by the Romanian Orthodox Dumitru Staniloae in imagining the relation between these three components in perichoretic terms, in which none has hierarchical authority over the others, even if we may, chronologically speaking, delineate a trajectory that could look like this:
1. God reveals himself/herself to the humanity created on their image;
2. some humans respond in faith (giving birth to a Church of sorts), while others reject divine revelation (giving birth to a sort of counter-faith community, constantly at odds with the first one);
3. those who receive revelation become of ‘community of faith’, of sorts;
4. the ‘memory’ of God’s revealed words and acts is kept and transmitted to the next generations, first orally (becoming Tradition), and then in some written form (becoming Scripture);
5. since facts, and texts, do not carry meaning, their interpretation needs to be done in community; and to be accepted as authentic, these interpretations need to be validated by the community of faith (the Church), thus closing the hermeneutic circle, or, even better, initiating another cycle in the hermeneutic spiral.’

Theology Gym

Authority, like many good things, can be perverted making it hard to use it in a positive, life giving way. Depending on what your life story is the very sound of this word can conjure negative connotations. Growing up in a communist country, I’ve been conditioned to associate authority first and foremost with oppression. As a result, I have a knee-jerk reaction of skepticism toward authority. Yet, over the years I found myself gravitating toward a regenerative stream of humanity that seeks to redeem things, to bring about the good in everything. Authority is on that list. It must be reclaimed.

If theology is an attempt to articulate truth, the question of authority seems to be an essential one because as soon as you start the quest for truth, you have to choose some kind of criteria to get to it. How do I find the truth? Who can help…

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40 Years in the Desert – 2. The Post-communist Mindset 5

2.5 Lack of Respect for Authority and Government

As a kind of corollary of the issues discussed above, people living in communist societies did not have any genuine respect for authority and government, which were invariably seen as being inherently oppressive.

This kind of attitude is often carried over into the period of transition to democracy and creates all sorts of pathological behaviour in ordinary members of society and in government officials alike. Continue reading “40 Years in the Desert – 2. The Post-communist Mindset 5”

Submission – the way to genuine freedom and authority

“No man appears in safety before the public eye, unless he first relishes obscurity. No man is safe in speaking, unless he loves to be silent. No man rules safely, unless he is willing to be ruled. No man commands safely, unless he has learned well how to obey. No man rejoices safely, unless he has within him the testimony of a good conscience” (Thomas à Kempis, Imitatio Christi, 1. 20. 2).

One avva (a spiritual father) in the desert of Egypt asked his disciple to water every day a little branch that he planted in his garden. The stream was far away, and the disciple needed the whole day to get the water and come back. In spite of this, he submitted to the will of his master and faithfully did his duty every day. After a number of years, a beautiful apple tree grew from that branch. It blossomed and gave its fruit at the right time. Then, the avva called the other brothers in the monastery to celebrate and made them taste the sweet fruit of his disciple’s submission.

Continue reading “Submission – the way to genuine freedom and authority”

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