Monday, October 29, 2007

In Conclusion

Dear Dr. Lavin,

I will end with this, Charles S. Maier writes in Among Empires- American ascendancy and its Predecessors, “…according to John L. O’Sullivan, the Jacksonian editor who coined the phrase manifest destiny a half century later: ’The far-reaching, the boundless future will be the era of American greatness. In the magnificent domain of space and time, the nation of many nations is destined to manifest to mankind the excellence of divine principles.’” (Emphasis mine) If we forget the ideals on which and for which we were founded, we will not find greater freedom and liberty, but tyranny and slavery to the darker elements of our nature. As a nation we will be a force for good or evil in the world, this seems unavoidable. Many in the world of Islam, not just radicals and terrorists, see us as a force for evil, as the decadence of our culture spreads around the world. Others perhaps see us as a beacon of hope this was at least partially true among some of the peoples of the former Soviet empire. I hope that our real manifest destiny is to be a source of good and hope for the world. If we choose not “to manifest to mankind the excellence of divine principles” the alternative is not to manifest moral indifferentism, but moral decadence. We will be light or the absence thereof, but we are too powerful already to be just another dim bulb.

The founding fathers believed they were founding what Jefferson referred to as an Empire of Liberty. “From the outset, however, it was to be different from other imperial states: wiser, freer, benevolent, and peaceful…America, in short, would both expand and act as a force for good.” (Maier pp.1&2) Not moral relativism, but “for good,” the founding fathers were not ambivalent about this word. They new exactly what the “good” was because they all shared the same moral framework, which whether they acknowledged it or were even aware of it was unquestionably rooted in Judeo-Christian virtues; After Virtue by MacIntyre, I believe would support this “self evident truth.”

Pax Tecum


Dear Eques
Nice ending.
I suppose our difference really has to do with just exactly who should run this country. Not really whether it should be good, or whether its citizens ought to be religious or belong to this Church, or that Synagogue, or that Mosque.
And so my ending is that the American experiment, despite all the countless references to God, Divinity, Morality, and Good, at its deepest root, is a trial to see if a large nation can be ruled without God or King in charge, but with the people in charge. I see no other way to define it really. The proof is that at the moment, at least, we have no King, and no Priest, Rabbi, or Imam who represents God has any special say or power over the nation. This is the first nation in the history of humanity of any power or size to be in this situation, and it is this difference that defines what America is all about. You call for us to be a Christian Nation, but that is nothing new. How many Christian Nations have had a chance to rule their societies? Many. Most were ruled by Kings and Priests, and none seemed to have a history that distinguished them from the course of human history. At times they were great, at times magnanimous. Many of their citizens were extraordinary people. But at times they were cruel and at times brutal, many of their citizens were arch-villains. In short, just like all other human societies.
So it is not an argument about moral relativism, or whether the US should be good. It is rather an argument about a rather more mundane quantity- political power. Who shall own that? A hereditary elite? A King? An institution representing God? I actually favor having the people hold that power. We shall see if that is doable.
In the meantime, I will resist efforts to return political power to where it tends to reside- in Kings and with God.
Your vision is more likely to prevail, since that is how humanity has yearned to be ruled for most of its existence, but I still hold out hope that this American difference will continue to let the great potential of humanity to bloom, prosper, and help each other.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Christianity/Catholicism guarantor of our "inalienable rights" Continued

Dear Eques and the C&S Group,

I think my main concern with your line of argument is a Copernican one. That is, people have argued for many thousands of years just where the center of things is.

Is the Earth the center around which the Sun revolves? Or is the Sun the center around which the Earth revolves?

In social realms, every entity of humanity from the 150-person tribe, to the 1 billion person state of China, has believed that they are the Center of the Universe.

Jerusalem is referred to as the Umbilicus Mundi, as is Rome.

How does one choose just who is the Center? Is it Rome, or is it Jerusalem, or is it Shiprock New Mexico, or a Buddhist shrine in Thailand, or even Fenway Park.

One philosopher captured the argument by stating that the fallacy of there being a Center is captured by the following statement:

"There are universal values. They just happen to be mine."

Perhaps we can blame Copernicus, and certainly Newton for bolstering this way of thinking. Newton's main contribution to human thought was coming close to proving that there is an absolute frame of reference. The universe, in other words, has a cosmic x, y, and z axis, and everything can be located on this one universal framework.

Galileo first proposed that there was no such frame of reference in space, so that if someone is moving at a constant speed, and everything around them moves at the same speed they cannot tell they are moving. This is familiar to all of us on Earth which is moving at 25,000 miles per hour, but since everything is it seems when we lie down in our back yard we are not moving.

Einstein added the observation that there is no fixed framework for time either, no universal clock.

So today's science has rejected the notion of a fixed framework, and with it the notion of a fixed Center of the Universe. There is no physical Umbilical Mundi.

And I believe the same is true in religion and other matters human. I consider the whole question of a Center in human groupings to be a deeply flawed, old habit of human mind that has caused nothing but trouble, war, and needless death and oppression.

Yet I do believe that the various, and quite abundant events of human grouping have created much of what is valuable in life. It is only when a group ascribes to itself a sense of unique value, that I find things go sour.

In fact, I can think of no example of a nation, religion, or ethnicity grabbing at a claim of exclusive value without suffering or causing some grave harm to itself and/or others.

And so I would state that your characterization of Catholicism as somehow uniquely central to Western Civilization fits squarely into this dangerous habit of mind. Who is really to say that the Catholic Church's contribution to human progress weighs more than other religion's, philosophy's, and/or polities? Again, no argument with the vast value the Church has given to humanity and the world, but that in no way protects it from the dangers inherent in claiming unique supremacy.

With respect to America, the central core of what America did differently was to say there is no Center, there is no group, religion, identity valued over another. All groups weigh the same here, or will try to. Jefferson's mention of the creator was simply a nod to the religious sensibilities of his time. His statement in the Declaration of Independence created a society that could release humanity from the shackles of groups that would claim domination over others. Each person became equally powerful and equally valuable in his formulation. God was not part of that valuing or formulation, except perhaps as the Power that got the whole process started, hence reference as creator. No particular religion is mentioned in our Declaration of Independence and God is not mentioned whatsoever in the Constitution. These are the first state papers in the history of humanity to not mention the state religion or God, and people noticed. The Constitution was criticized at the time for that omission, and the Founding Fathers made it clear it was not an omission, but an innovation. They clearly were trying to fashion a society in which neither God nor King was in charge, but rather the people.

Your call to make America a Christian nation, which it decidedly is not, but clearly could be, would essentially destroy nearly every initiative the Founding Fathers and Lincoln worked to achieve. It would make Christianity the nation's religion, establishing a State preference for singling out one approach, one group, as Central. The fallacy of one such group so much superior to all others would invite tyranny, it always has in history and always will.

I do not fault you for trying to push for the shift back to the way nations always have operated. After all, most innovations fail, and most long-lasting traditions succeed.

In this one instance, however, I do pray that the still novel concept of a government for the people, of the people, and by the people will prove in time to be a viable innovation, and that humanity can at last find its release from the forms of government headed by God or King that nearly always devolve into one form or tyranny or another.


Arthur Lavin

Dear Dr Lavin and C&R group

As you requested I have posted your replies and our entire dialogue on HAA “Conservative and Republican” discussion group.

I believe we are beginning to talk past one another. I do not wish for the USA to be Christian Nation in any established sense. I wish to preserve the representative form of government we enjoy by virtue of arguably the noblest Constitution in the history of mankind. To do so I maintain we must rediscover the moral consensus that once existed in our nation, which most Americans took for granted for most of our history.

Alasdair MacIntyre, in After Virtue exquisitely observed that our culture has suffered at cataclysmic moral event that we somehow missed. We can see its effects in our loss of moral consensus. I am certain that some would see this as a desirable thing. However, I would argue that it is a disaster for our nation and our culture. We are now a nation that turns to our legislatures and courts to tell us what is right or wrong, no longer malum in se but rather malum prohibitum.<;/i>

The result is that we are reduced to the lowest common denominator. Our morality is reduced to, “as long as I do not get caught I can do whatever feels good or benefits me.” We have become moral monads. The moral chaos is not a recipe for the building, but for the deconstruction of our culture and civilization.

It is incumbent upon us as a people to rediscover our cultural roots, which again are a mixture, of Greek, Judeo, Christian, and western “pagan” elements, historically mediated and integrated by Catholicism, which of course means, “universalism.” There is a reason that oaths of office and in courts are taken in the name of God on the Bible. A ritual acknowledging that our entire governmental and legal system is biblically based. As you are aware as you enter the Supreme Court building above your head on the fa├žade of the portico you are confronted with Moses and the Ten Commandments. It is possible to argue that this is purely a secularist nod to the historical importance of the Ten Commandments to the history of law. However, when these rituals and buildings were designed and constructed secularism was not yet on the horizon. These were traditional allusions and recognitions of our biblical heritage.

I do not desire a Catholic US of A. I do wish to renew our culture and this is only possible by returning to its roots, which is exactly what MacIntyre proposes. Although he is a bit more pessimistic than I. He suggests that the only thing we can do is to return to our faith communities and wait for a new St. Benedict, the father of western monasticism, who he credits with preserving the remnants of culture and civilization after the dissolution of the Roman Empire.

Allow me to repeat, I do not propose or support a Christian/Catholic US of A. It is necessary, however, that we rediscover the moral consensus, which makes government for and by the people possible. In addition, a moral consensus would act as a break on tyranny by the majority, or worse tyranny by an oligarchy such as the Supreme Court, which is now free to ignore the Ten Commandments, legal precedent, and the legislative process.

I anticipate the retort that this is just another form of Axis Mundi of moral and religious type. Yes it is. Just as the Sun is necessary for the survival not only of our world and life, as we know it, but for the very existence of OUR SOLAR SYSTEM, not every solar system but ours, Western Civilization will not survive without its particular Axis Mundi. Perhaps we are witnessing the decline and dissolution of Western Civilization and perhaps this is what most people actually desire. It follows that representative government is not likely to survive the end of the Civilization that produced it. No other culture had the ‘raw materials” that could or did produce it. Perhaps the noble experiment is ending; perhaps we are on the brink of a truly Imperial Presidency. Rome moved from city-state, to kingdom, to an oligarchic republic, to empire. Perhaps we are in a transitional historical phase that requires this moral shift in order to move to the Imperial phase our national history.

I am not a historical fatalist. I do believe it is possible to slow or even reverse this historical trajectory. However, a moral renaissance is essential in order to save what you and I both hold dear, our representative form of government.

Pax Tecum


Friday, October 19, 2007

Christianity/Catholicism gurantor of our "inalienable rights"

The following is an ongoing conversation with the Harvard Alumni Association "Conservative and Republican" online discussion group. The responses to Eques proposition "That Christianity and Catholicism is a guarantor not the enemy of American Democracy and Western Civilization" are worthy of your consideration. You are invited to join the discussion.

Slave Omnes, Hello all members of the HAA "Conservative and Republican" group.

I am a Roman Catholic Priest. I am very interested in the critique of our Western Civilization/Culture and the direction(s) it is taking. My basic premise is that Western Civilization is a product of Christianity and the Roman Catholic and Protestant riff in particular which ushered in the Enlightenment and made the "horrors"of the French Revolution possible.

I am an Edmund Burke conservative politically, but a Catholic in all things. Therefore, I believe that Western Civilization is essentially Conservative because it is essentially Christian. As the culture moves away from its Christian roots we can discern the decline of Western Civilization and the decay of our culture. (I am convinced that the Roman Catholic Church has a major role to play in restoring and renewing Western Civilization/Culture.

I also agree with critique Alexis De Tocqueville in "Democracy in America" that American Democracy will flourish only if it conserves its Christian Soul. Contrary to the secularists Christianity is the guardian of democracy not its enemy.

Have I come to the right place?


Hello Eques,
I am sorry, I am not an intellectual, I don't know exactly what you mean by an "Edmund Burke" conservative, and I am not sure this fits me.
America was founded by those who believed in God, and those who felt they were Christians. But many were Deists who did not believe God would want to interfere with the workings of those who made prayers expecting some divine intercession. I am more of this view. I believe in God, and I was raised in the Catholic Church in a French speaking family, but, I am not a practicing Catholic.
But, I have seen families, loyal Catholics, who included priests and nuns in their circle of friends and their lives were enriched by having, so to speak, a moral and ethical guide in the form of a person dedicated to the Church and the moral life. It was easy for them to turn to a priest and ask "Father, I have a dilemma and I would like to ask your advice." And, it seemed to me that the advice was always forthcoming and on the mark as to what should be done. I miss this dialogue because I have left the Church for my personal reasons, and, I feel a certain loss in my life.
My wife and I spend five months a year in our home in Paris, and, I visited the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal there, and I attended the Mass in a wonderful old Church, and it awoke many old memories of my childhood. I am no longer a Catholic, but I am of the faith, nonetheless.
America is fundamentally a Christian nation, but the old testament is shared with our Jewish brothers and sisters and, I feel they too are an important part of our heritage. But, of all the religious groups I have met, I think the Buddhists are among the most civilized and tolerant. We have many Buddhist friends who show more tolerance and sympathy than I could have ever expected. The Religion is very foreign to us, but it deserves a great deal of respect.
I also have friends who are Muslims, not in this country, but those with whom I correspond over the Internet. I fail to understand this Religion and I am appalled at their attitude towards other religions, and, since I spend a lot of time overseas and I see how much they despise our systems of laws and our ethical values. It is very bad in the UK, and the politicians are total imbeciles to let the Muslims have free reign to subvert the laws and customs of the UK.
The Protestants fit in, the Jews fit in, the Buddhists fit in, the Muslims do not fit in. I wait to see what will come of the attempt of the Muslims to reach a conciliation with the great Judeo-Christian block, the Holy See, and the Orthodox Religions of the East. Our experiences with the Muslims, especially the Taliban in Afghanistan are truly horrifying and I fail to see how they can ever be reconciled.
But, perhaps you see things differently.


Dear Arthur,

I concur with you concerning the dangers that Islam poses to Western Civilization and Europe in particular, which is in evidence in your beloved France. Your remarks actually fit with my basic Premise. Western Civilization and Culture is Catholic at its core and in its roots. The Catholic Church medicated and integrated many non-Christian western elements such as Germanic “barbarian” cultural elements and Greek Philosophy, and Eastern non-Christian religious thought, chief among these Judaism.

The following link will bring you to extensive essay that will explain, I think, the very issue you sense with Islam and the West, and in fact the World. <>.

I too am an 'Edmund Burke' conservative, but I wondered about your vision of the West. How do other religions fit in, in your view?

Dear Andy,
Please see my Response to Arthur above and Dr. Lavin, below.

Dear Eques, and Greetings to All,
Thanks for the very interesting posting. It brings to mind a book I just read by the Nobel Laureate in Economics for 1998, and recently Master of Trinity College at Cambridge University, Dr. Amartya Sen:
IDENTITY AND VIOLENCE. This is the best book I have read on the issue of identity and how it provides something positive to human existence, but also what harm it can cause as well. The issue of how groups of humanity identify themselves and how that identification is at the root of much human violence is a compelling concern that Sen develops brilliantly.

I cannot speak for the group as to whether you have found the right place, but I always welcome the opportunity to understand what our potential as humans is and can be, and so I welcome your thoughts.

My response to your proposition is that Western Civilization, Conservatism, Catholicism, and Christianity are each and all vast and complex entities. I would find it hard to say that any one of these contains all of the other three. Certainly one would have to agree that there is much to Western Civilization that at its deepest roots as well as today's everyday situation, is derived from non-Christian sources, as well as non-Western sources. Sen is particularly brilliant in proving that much of "Western" civilization was created in the "East," and much of "Eastern" civilization was created in the "West." Surely one would have to admit that much of Christianity is not Catholic. One could also argue that not all Christianity is Conservative, many consider Jesus as one of history's most potent radicals, the very opposite of a Conservative approach to life. And certainly not all Conservatism is Christian.

And so I would rather argue that Western Civilization, Conservatism, Catholicism, and Christianity are each rich and invaluable parts of the human experience. That each have contributed essential aspects of human thinking, human virtue, human caring to the very core of what it means to be human. But to say that they are all one and the same, or that no other aspect of human experience has been as rich or essential seems to fly in the face of what has actually taken place since modern humanity emerged some 50,000 years ago.

Another point. To me, America is still one of the great experiments in human living. Abraham Lincoln captured that sense of experiment best.
He believed that it was a new idea to ask a large number of people to govern themselves without recourse to tyranny. He also believed that it was not yet clear if this could be done. I agree with Lincoln on both points today. When we look at the world today, we are reminded that for most of human history, at least since agriculture allowed formation of societies, the usual organization of society was tyrannical, the group would grant a king or priest power over the group's volition. These groups would almost always be defined by a religious or political identity and wars would rage between opposing identities. Most of human society existed under such tyrannies for nearly all of human history.

The Founding Fathers embraced a radical notion, that neither king nor priest should rule, but rather the people. It remains to be seen whether this is workable. But the record of the last 200+ years does contain some rather striking successes. Perhaps one of the most extraordinary success stories has been the ability of the citizens of the world to live together in peace in the United States. Surely old habits of prejudice have been active here, but consider how Italians, Greeks, Jews, Chinese, Arabs, Persians, Africans, Turks, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and any other group one might identify all live together in peace. Note how no American Muslim has ever been a suicide bomber, even though many countries in the "West" have sprouted their own. Not only do the various ethnic groups refrain from killing
each other in the US, but they also collaborate in releasing the most powerful blooms of human creativity. Think of the way in which a staggering diversity of people have been able to invent and create the American variety of business success, literature, etc.

It seems most apparent that two keys to American success have been:
1. The attempt to eliminate the inheritance of power, the state is ruled by an elected official, not a dynastic king. We are slipping a bit on this point with the Bush and Clinton dynasties and the concentrations of wealth, but the American vision is to let virtue and merit not wealth or parentage decide who rules.
2. The attempt to eliminate religious identity as a source of power.
This has created the following three advances that at the time of their creation which together were unique in human history:
a. A society in which each person could follow their religious heritage without fear of being persecuted.
b. A society in which no person could wield political power by invoking the power of the Divinity. Political arguments had to be won in open debate, no clergy could settle a political debate by acting as representative of God.
c. A society in which religious wars would not be fought. Not one major war the United States has been involved in has been religious sectarian in nature, a striking contrast to Europe's history.

And so although Western Civilization, Conservativism, Christianity, and Catholicism have been amongst the great treasures of humanity, I am not prepared to limit all of America to be only Western, Catholic, and Conservative. It has never been so, and if the vision of the Founding Fathers, and the hopes of Abraham Lincoln are ever to be achieved, it can never be so. This is a country of diverse humanity, whose politics were built to allow the best of humanity to bloom. To re-make America into a Catholic country whose only choices are Conservative would quickly dim the light of 300 million people thinking, creating, inventing. It would almost certainly invite the return of some religious hierarchy to the role of political power. This is an experiment currently in process in Iran, and being tried to be imposed across the Muslim world. Everyone in the world can see what happens when clergy are granted political power on the basis of their claims to speak for God. It would also likely lead to an inherited political elite, and completely end whatever hope for a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

This may be the right place for your post, but these are a few thoughts that your ideas stimulate.

What does everyone think about these issues?

Arthur Lavin, MD FAAP
Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

Eques Response follows

Dear Dr. Lavin and Greetings to all

Several of your points are worth comment.

1. I agree, “There is much to Western Civilization and Culture that at its deepest roots…is derived from non-Christian sources, as well as non-Western sources.” This is historically accurate. Christianity itself has it roots on the threshold of Asia in the Middle East and is itself rooted in Judaism. Western thought patterns are themselves rooted in Greek philosophy. However, the Catholic Church through the Apostles and early church fathers and missionaries, in particular through Paul who was himself an observant Jew and even a Pharisee, brought the gospel to the gentiles of the West. Catholic Scholars such as Augustine, Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, mediated and integrated ancient Greek philosophy into Catholicism and therefore to the West.

2. Yesterday October 17 was the Feast of Ignatius of Antioch who was the successor to Peter in Antioch and Martyred in Rome as Peter was in 107 during the reign of Emperor Trajan. Ignatius was the first to refer to the Christian Church as Catholic. The Church was Catholic for more than a thousand years before the great schism before Easter Orthodox and Catholicism centered in Rome. The West remained Catholic until Luther’s formal break with Rome. So although “one would have to admit that much of Christianity is not Catholic” today, one would also have to admit that all Christianity was Catholic, and certainly all of Western Christianity was Catholic for about 1500 years. It was during this time that what we call Western Civilization was born and nourished by Catholicism when it was if not the only light certainly the brightest after the collapse of the Roman Empire.

3. This is of course my point that what we call Western Civilization is at it roots Catholic. Through which non-Christian and non-Western streams were mediated and integrated. I do not maintain that Western Civilization, Conservatism, Christianity, and Catholicism are at this time all one. They are not! However, Catholicism is the mother of them all. Therefore, I would maintain with De Tocqueville (a devout Catholic) that American Democracy is endangered by the cultural shift away for Christianity and its Catholic roots.

4. You maintain that in ancient times “the usual organization of society was tyrannical.” Actually, it was not. The societies where organized as where nuclear families. They were Patriarchal. The King, Pharaoh, Emperor, was the “father” of the nation. There was a high expectation among the people that the “father” of the nation would care for his children the people of his nation. They were of his blood; they were “family.” It is true that these organizational structures could be “tyrannical.”

However, so can “democracy” be tyrannical, “The Founding Fathers” did not embrace a radical notion. They were demanding the traditional rights of Englishmen. They demanded representation of the property classes in parliament. They were in fact afraid of the Tyranny of the Mob and designed the Constitution with as many safeguards against democracy, rule by the majority, as possible. The only branch of the federal government directly elected by the people, provided by the Constitution was the House of Representative, and here “by the people” means free Men only. The members of the Senate, a non-aristocratic “House of Lords” were elected by the State Legislatures. The election of the president was insulated from the demos by the novelty of the Electoral College, which was intended to be free to the elect the president according to their own best lights, as the College of Cardinals elect the Pope. Judges were appointed by the Executive Branch, with the approval of the Senate. These things have all been altered by amendments and practice. Also, remember the States where free at the time to place all kinds of restrictions on who could vote and who could not. Therefore, do say the Founding Fathers embraced a radical notion is not historically sustainable.

5. I agree with your keys to American success. “2. a” is I think the important aspect.

“Political arguments had to be won in open debate.” This exactly what I hope we are about even in this exchange. The argument that I would like to make essentially is that Christianity/Catholicism is the guarantor of our “democracy.” It is not as Christopher Hitchens argues its enemy. It is its guarantor, because democracy as we know it is a product of Western Political Philosophy, which is rooted in Catholic Theology and Greek Philosophy. We should not hesitate to argue with Thomas Jefferson, “that we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, chief among these being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” God is the origin of our rights, he is the ultimate lawgiver, and he guarantees our rights. He has created us and our human dignity is an essential of our human nature.

I am eager to know what others think of my line of reasoning. Thank you Dr. Lavin for this thought provoking and informative exchange.

Pax Tecum



Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Separateness of the Priest

If we look at the life of Christ as depicted in the Sacred Scripture we see a man who was both of his time and for all times. We see a man who was very different because he was also truly God. Jesus of Nazareth was also Jesus the Christ. He walked and talked, ate and prayed with the people of His particular time, faith, culture and place. Yet, He taught his closest friends and those who would be his disciples “to be in the world but not of it”. He is the Way for Christians to God and all that lies beyond this very temporal existence and experience of life. From among his disciples He choose, He set apart, He separated 12 to be His Apostles, that is those whom He would send out to all the world and on whom He would build the edifice of His church as on 12 foundation stones. He gave to one of these the Keys of the Kingdom to bind and to loose matters on earth and even in heaven.

Jesus, Himself distinguished among family, friends, disciples and apostles. All distinctions carry with them a degree of separateness. We can only call something distinct in itself if it is also separated in some way from others.

The Apostles themselves began very soon to separate some men from the Community of Faith (ecclesia: the church) to serve at table and to minister to the needs of widows and orphans. These were called Deacons (diakonos: servant). The proto –martyr St. Steven was among them. The Apostles also consecrated men to supervise and administer the churches they had founded on their missionary expeditions. These men were called bishops (episcapos: overseers). The bishops themselves soon began to consecrate priests (presbyteros: elder) to assist them in caring for the spiritual needs of the Community of Faith, so that the Word and the Sacraments might be preached and administered to all the faithful. These bishops and presbyters very quickly began to see themselves as the priest of the New Covenant, replacing those of the Old Covenant who sacrifices had come to an end with the permanent destruction of the Temple by the Roman Empire in 70 ad.

The selection of these men to ecclesial office was understood as a consecration, a setting aside of these men for the sacred, exclusive service of God.

It was for this reason that bishops and priests were expected to separate from their wives, and live chastely as though they had no wives. When Paul instructs in, first Timothy 3:2, that men who are to be set apart for the episcopacy should be married but once, in order to demonstrate that they can indeed live chastely. The remarriage of a man after the death of his first wife was taken as a definitive sign that he could not live a celibate chaste life.

First Timothy 3:2

2 Therefore, a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not aggressive, but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money.

The ordained is separated not only from the world by his episcopal or presbyteral consecration, but he is also separated from his wife for the sake of God and His Kingdom. The marriage vows were not broken by this new reality. The bishop or priest was still responsible for the livelihood of his wife, if she lived, and children, if he had any. He was, however, expected to live separately from them, from this moment on husband and wife was to become like brother and sister.

The letter to the Hebrews speaks eloquently of the separation of every “high priest” by God from the people for the sacred role of offering the sacrifice to God for the salvation of the people. It compares each priest to Jesus Christ the great High Priest of the New Covenant who, when in the flesh was able to offer the sacrifice of His own suffering by which “He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him”.

Hebrews 5:1-10

Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.


He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness


and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.


No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.


In the same way, it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: "You are my son; this day I have begotten you";


just as he says in another place: "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek."


In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.


Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered;


and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him,


declared by God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

It is therefore accurate to claim that separateness is essential to the Priesthood. When a man is consecrated to the presbyterate by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, he is set apart. He is separated from his fellow men, so that he may be an instrument for their salvation. He is consecrated, set apart, for exclusive sacred use. He is no longer to beget children of the flesh, but myriads of children of the Spirit. He will become father of many by being father of none. This separateness is truly ontological and fruitful.

It is likely that individual priests will experience this separateness in different ways. It should be expected that each will have different emotional, psychological and spiritual manifestations of this reality in their own flesh. Consistent with this new reality the priest would experience himself as somehow different. Contrary to this new reality would be any attempt by the priest himself or others to suppress these differences or artificially to obfuscate the separateness. A priest therefore is no longer an ordinary man; rather he is an ordained man. Like a cup that has been consecrated and has become a chalice, so also the Christian gentleman has been consecrated by the Sacrament of Holy Orders and has become a priest; both now have a sacred nature and purpose.

It is altogether proper, therefore, for the priest to live apart and to bear witness to the sacred by his manner of dress and his comportment. It is his proper role and sacred function to pray and to offer the sacrificial meal of the Eucharist. He is to model by word and example the faith of Christ for all believers and non-believers alike.

Unfortunately, there are those who wish to trivialize or eliminate the differences between clergy and laity. This is a disservice to both vocations. The laity is called by virtue of the sacrament of Baptism, to holiness and to sanctify the world by their work, witness and prayer. The priest is called by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders to serve the spiritual needs of the faithful. He is now an alter Christus, another Christ. He is to teach, preach, and offer the sacrifice in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). All distinctions are to flow from and be commensurate with these different but complementary roles.

These distinctions are matters of neither power nor privilege, but of consecration and service. The priest as father of the faith community is to lead gently the faithful entrusted to him by his bishop in the manner of Christ who was meek and humble of heart. He is to be careful not to break the bent reed or quench the smoldering wick, yet he is to be bold and brave in protecting his community of faith from the powers of darkness that seek to blind them to the Light of Jesus Christ, who alone can save them.

The priest is a man who is called to live for Christ, to serve Christ in his Body the church, the people of God. . St Thomas wisely taught that grace builds on nature. Therefore the priest is first to be a good man, healthy in mind and body. He is to be emotionally and psychological mature and open to further growth and development. He is to be physically healthy enough to carry out the work entrusted to him by ordination. In this way he can be good soil for the many graces of ordination to take deep and lasting root in him. As a man he will know that he is imperfect and a sinner. Hebrews also reminds us, “He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.”

Recalling once again the words of the letter to the Hebrews, “No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was”. For those who are called, for those who are invited by Christ to “come and follow me” as his priest, there can be no greater life no greater vocation, than that of being a Priest of Jesus Christ. It is a pearl of great price worth being set apart for.