March 29, 2011

Thought for 03.29.11

A bishop is called to guard the faith, a theologian to explore it. The tasks are not mutually exclusive, and it might well be said that one who has thoroughly explored a territory may be its best guardian.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
(a thought not unrelated to another.)


Robert Brenchley said...

Problem is, the bishop is likely to 'guard' their interpretation of the faith. What if they're at odds with other people?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Ultimately, everything is interpretation, since any knowledge resides in the knower. The best we can hope for is communication, dialogue and continued fellowship. As long as people agree, or appear to agree, or agree to disagree, we are acting organically as members one of another.

Frank Remkiewicz aka “Tree” said...

Isn't a bishop called to tend his flock? Gaurding the faith seems like such a pedestrian duty.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fred, I think tending the flock is very much part of guarding the faith: protecting from thieves and wolves, seeking the lost, feeding them with nourishing pasturage... these can all be metaphors; indeed I hope they are metaphors!

Tim said...


In my opinion, a common error associated with the episcopate seems to revolve around confusing the fellow holding the crosier with the owner of the flock. The former is but a hired hand, a steward to keep watch until the Master returns and calls said hand to account.

Of course, your experience may be entirely different from mine.



Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Tim, I have, in general, been blessed to serve with bishops who did or do understand their office as that of a faithful shepherd rather than the owner of the sheep. There is the converse problem, however, cited by Jesus, that one who acts merely as "a hired hand" who has no sense of real responsibility will flee at the first sign of danger -- because the sheep are not really his. This reinforces my strong sense that it is not the structures of an institution, but the fidelity and skill of the workers, that is of primary importance. Institutions can help or hinder, but the quality of the workers is primary.

Ironically, the church too often seeks institutional solutions -- and often crafts institutions that are structurally at odds with the presumed values the institution was meant to spread. This happens in the episcopate in particular, it seems. Which is why me hero in this regard is Gregory the Great, who, I think, got it right.

Tim said...


Returning to the well of Context...I live in one of the more conservative and active RC arch-dioceses in the country (Denver). This affects us to an extent because our vicarage deals with those whom they do not deem 'worthy' of the Kingdom.

As far as the responsibility aspect, I would remind that the Master shall return and call us to account for the talents he gave us. In that regard, I come back to the words steward and vicar, rather than bishop (επίσκοπος, overseer).

I agree with your thoughts about institutional reforms often going awry. As was brought out in the homily this Sunday about the man blind from birth (John 9), transformation is, almost by definition, outside the bounds of 'the law' and is normally considered antithetical to the institution.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Tim, thanks again. One of the reasons for my fondness for Gregory the Great is his introduction of the title "servant of the servants of God" to the list of papal accountabilities. Not all popes have lived up to that -- or down to that -- ideal of humble service.

I'm thinking more and more of the issues involved in creative reform, dependent on God. "Root your Church" may be in the offing!

Tim said...

The idea of "guarding the faith" worries me somewhat. Even without the definite article, I should like to know more what the guarding is about.

(This comes from one or two experiences where I've gone to a church and been asked "you know what's going off? You want to partake?" on the door, as though they have to guard the sacrament from infidels. The whole idea of "we must look after what we have" is a key tenet of conservatism.)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Tim, this may be, in the long run, a relic of our liturgy -- phrases and themes endure in liturgy sometimes for many eras, without close examination. "Guard the faith" comes from the ordination rite for a bishop, and I presume (without having time to verify, as I'm off to an early meeting today) that it comes from the time when the church's greatest fear was heresy.

What I am attempting to do in this "thought" is to find some balance between preservation and innovation -- which, it seems to me, is essential to healthy development and reform, as well as fidelity to what is truly worthy.

That "protective impulse" you've encountered stems, in my opinion, from an overly intellectual attitude towards faith -- as if "understanding" the sacrament was more vital than celebrating it. The didactic/dogmatic model for the church needs to be balanced with the experiential/sacramental. In my view it is possible to swing too much one way or the other -- enthusiasm or cold dogmatism.

Tim said...

Thanks for the background.

Maybe you could get the liturgy changed to "guide the faith" instead? :)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

A splendid suggestion! After all, bishops carry a shepherd's staff...;-)