World Council of Churches

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Response by Guzman Carriquiry

Response by Guzman Carriquiry to the paper "On Being Christian in the World" by Hans-Ruedi Weber at the May 1997 international consultation on the theme: "Towards a Common Understanding of the Theological Concepts of Laity/Laos: The People of God."

10 May 1997

Le Cénacle, Geneva, 7-10 May 1997

Response by Guzman Carriquiry to the paper "On Being Christian in the World"

It is certainly an honour, and at the same time, a stimulating experience, to be asked to reflect in this consultation on the draft "On being Christians in the world", presented by Hans-Ruedi Weber. Dr Weber’s experience and competence with regard to this topic are well-known and appreciated throughout the ecumenical movement. I have one memory in particular when I was still new in the Vatican and there was intense collaboration between the "Consilium de Laicis" and the laity department of the World Council of Churches: the memory of the excellent Bible studies that Dr Weber offered on every working day for the 250 Catholic lay people gathered for a world consultation in Rome in 1975.

This draft seems to me a valuable introduction to ecumenical dialogue during this consultation. Many of the viewpoints expressed can be shared; others may be questionable; for others again, the author himself suggests deeper reflection and research. We have here a very rich synthesis of approaches that are historical, cultural, biblical and theological. In the limited time at our disposal, our reaction can only be given in brief outline. But, during these days, opportunities will not be lacking for deeper discussion.

It would seem useful in the first place to recall the nature and aim of this consultation. The intention is to arrive at a clarification of the terms, "people of God", "laity" and "laos" from an ecumenical perspective, in the context of the current "reopening of the ecumenical discussion on the laity" (cf. The Ecumenical Review 45/4, 1993). This "reopening" coincides with a renewed attention, within the Catholic Church, to the teachings of Vatican II concerning the laity, twenty years after the conclusion of the Ecumenical Council. This renewal was stimulated by the assembly of the Synod of Bishops which was held in 1987, precisely on the theme, "Vocation and Mission of the Laity", and its further development in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of John Paul II, "Christifideles Laici".

Every clarification of terminology is useful, especially when there is danger of a "babel" of presuppositions. The present "clarification" expresses concern of far greater importance. Basically, what matters to us - the reason for all our effort and research and our coming together - is just one thing: that, in the Church, every person should discover/rediscover his or her vocation, dignity and destiny, allowing the human glory of Christ, the Lord, to shine forth in him or in her. Even in Christian communities, nothing should every be taken for granted. Always we have to return to what is essential. That, surely, is what brings us together here.

I will not take time over philological and etymological questions. There has been general consensus on the conclusions reached by Ignatius de la Potterie, S.J. in his research on "laos" and "laikos" (Nouvelle Revue Theologique, vol. 80, 1968, 840-53): The indications given in Dr Weber’s draft are also enlightening. I am not concerned here with Greek roots and their significance in biblical texts. What interests me is the agreement reached by many scholars that the term "laikos" "rarely used in the early Church before the IVth century" referred to a category of persons among Christian people who were not "consecrated" for service in worship - members of the faithful who were neither bishops nor priests nor deacons (and who, from the IVth century, were also distinguished from "monks" by their "state of life"). I am convinced that it is not on the basis of careful philological analysis - however useful - that we will be able to account for the life and mission of lay people in the first centuries of the Church... nor in the present day! Nor, on the basis of the values attributed to the laity today, should we try, retrospectively, to give the term "laikos" a formal content and meaning that it did not originally have. If we add to that the widespread modern use in current language of the term "lay" as "not belonging to the Church" or not bound to any religious confession, the reasons for ambiguity increase. Certain theological attempts to distinguish between "Lay - laity - laicity - laicism" often end in an ecclesiastical language that is remote from the real life of persons and of the baptised.

In the decades when the "theology of the laity" was developing in the Roman Catholic Church - especially from the 1930’s to the 1960’s - many theologians were certainly trying to go beyond a "negative definition" of the laity that could be pejorative. We need only think of Y. Congar, E. Schillebeeckx, H. Urs von Balthasar, G. Philips, K. Rhaner ... Their research was part of a vast process of ecclesiological renewal, of a renewed ecclesial self-awareness as regards the mystery and the mission of the Church, a process of which there was evidence in the Roman Catholic Church already in the middle of the last century and which, much later, was to be resumed and to bear fruit in the Second Vatican Council, especially in the Constitution Lumen Gentium on the Church. As a theological development, what was attempted, by going back to biblical and patristic sources, was to reformulate a systematic and critical consciousness to match the reawakening that was taking place among the laity with the revival of Catholic associations, the experience of Catholic Action, the various trends of "social Catholicism", etc.

The Second Vatican Council preferred not to give an "ontological definition", but only a "typological description" of the laity. This, however, was given in the light of theological categories, of a renewed ecclesiology and of a pastoral and missionary approach which provide ample material for reflection. The description is found in no. 31 of Lumen Gentium:

The term laity’ is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in Holy Orders and those who belong to a religious state approved by the Church. That is, the faithful who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ, are placed in the People of God, and in their own way share the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ, and to the best of their ability carry on the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.

The radically positive identity of the laity emerges, therefore, in the fact of their being baptised "by one Spirit" and "into one Body" (cf. 1 Cor 12:13), of being reborn as "new creatures" (cf. Jn 3:5-6), "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people", to declare the "wonderful deeds" of God (cf. 1 Pet 2:9-10). It is not, therefore, by chance nor through some nominalistic shrewdness that, in the Roman Catholic Church, the terms of reference have been changed around. This is clear already in the title of the Apostolic Exhortation "Christifideles Laici". Not the obscure, and even ambiguous term "laity" but "Christifideles laici", "lay Christians", "lay faithful". No longer "laity" as substantive, but "lay" as adjective. The substantive is "Christifideles", implying the Pauline "in Christ" and expressing the essential distinctive sign of the Christian’s Ecclesial existence -- more radical, original and decisive than any other distinction. The figure of the lay Christian is therefore directly defined, not in relation to the priest or the religious - bringing a definition by opposition, and often by contraposition! -- but with reference to the presence of Christ in the person’s vocation, dignity, responsibility and destiny. This primary foundation of the lay person’s theological identity corresponds to the missionary concern, that every one of the baptised should rediscover the truth of St Augustine’s exclamation: "You have become Christ!"

What we have said is, of course, true for all the baptised, as Dr Weber points out. We have all been reborn "of water and the Holy Spirit" (cf Jn 3:5-6). It is not a criterion that is "specific" for the laity. But we cannot fail to take always as our starting-point this constitutive fact, the source of the lay Christian’s being and existence. Only in this way can we avoid overturning the reality, the truth of our own vocation. At the centre of our theological research, of our pastoral care and our missionary thrust, we place the person’s configuration to Christ through the sacraments. It should be added that, in the past, the emphasis placed strictly on hierarchical prerogatives and the purely negative concept of the laity had often obscured the Catholic tradition concerning the common, universal priesthood of the baptised, who all participate in the priesthood of Christ.

Baptism makes us belong to the Church. This is another important aspect for recognition of the Christian lay person’s identity. Both historical and pedagogical experience teach that the joyful consciousness of this belonging brings to the Christian laity a renewed awareness of their vocation and greater commitment to community and mission. For this we have to get away from a "clerical" Church, whether of the old model or along "modern" lines (a de facto "monopoly" of "professionals", "specialists" and "bureaucrats"), a Church where the "mass" of the baptized remain in shadow or on the fringe. In this sense, among the various biblical images of the Church, that of the "people of God" has the advantage of bringing out more clearly the common sacramental reality shared by all the baptised, as regards both dignity within the Church and responsibility in the world. Hans-Ruedi Weber notes well the risk involved in an indiscriminate use of the term "laos" which refers mainly to the people of Israel, not only in the Old Testament, but also and often in the New Testament.

But the image of the "people of God" - Weber points out - "emphasises the intimate relationship between Jews and Christians" and fundamental biblical categories such as "election", fidelity and witness. It seems to me to be important also in stressing the nature of the Church as an historical subject, a pilgrim Church, with an eschatological dynamism. But I would add that this biblical image of "God’s people" is completed and enriched by that of "Body of Christ", which finds its deepest interpretation in the first Letter to the Corinthians, and is further developed in the Letter to the Colossians and the Letter to the Ephesians (cf. Col..1:18, Eph.1:22;5:23). Incorporated into Christ, member of his Body, sharing in his Eucharist, the member of the faithful is immersed in this "tremendous mystery", in the communion of the Trinity, and therefore in the unity of all humankind. Both "God’s people" and the "Body of Christ" point to the Church as a reality, as an event in human history, as continuing the incarnation of the Son of God in time and space, making visible and communicating divine mercy and salvation. This is the sacramental method of revelation, of God’s pedagogy in dealing with humankind; and today a special antidote against any "spiritualistic" or "neo-gnostic" drift such as we find in the eclecticism of the "New Age".

I fully agree with Hans-Ruedi Weber that "for the New Testament the only priest is the crucified and risen Christ who radically re-interpreted priesthood"; and that "to share in Christ’s priesthood means for the priestly agent to become what might be called the sacrifice of all believers’". It was thanks to the one and indivisible priesthood of Jesus Christ that the people of the New Covenant was formed, sharing in that priesthood, in which "worship and life, praise and if need be martyrdom are intimately related". I find some difficulty, however, when Weber states that "few New Testament texts ... speak about the Christian community as a priesthood" and "never do these passages make a distinction between a general priesthood of all believers and a special set apart ministerial priesthood’"; adding that "the only text where in the New Testament a set-apart minister designates his work as a priestly service’ is Rom 15:16". It is true that we do not generally find the term "priests" used in this sense in the New Testament; but we cannot fail to see that this ministry is rooted in the fact that, for the sake of the universal priesthood, Jesus gathered disciples during his earthly mission, and with a specific and authoritative mandate he called and appointed the Twelve "to be with Him and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons" (Mk 3:14-15).

For this reason, already during his public ministry (cf. Mt 16:18) and then most fully after his death and resurrection (cf. Mt 28; Jn 20,21), Jesus conferred on the Twelve, and personally on Peter, entirely special powers with regard to the future community and evangelisation of all peoples. To enable them to carry out this mission Jesus conferred upon the Apostles, by a specific Paschal outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the same messianic authority which he had received from the Father, conferred in its fullness in his resurrection (cf. Mt 28:18-20). Jesus thus established a close relationship between the ministry entrusted to the Apostles and his own mission (cf. Mt 10:40; Lk 10:16; Jn 20,21...). In their turn, the Apostles, appointed by the Lord, progressively carried out their mission by calling, in various but complementary ways, other men as bishops, as priests and as deacons, in order to fulfil the command of the risen Jesus who sent them forth to all people in every age. The writings of the New Testament are unanimous in stressing that it is the same Spirit of Christ who introduces these men chosen from among their brethren into the ministry. Through the laying on of hands (cf. Acts 6:6; 1 Tim 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim 1:6) which transmits the gift of the Spirit, they are called and empowered to continue the same ministry of reconciliation, of shepherding the flock of God and of teaching (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:2) (cf. John Paul II: Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, 1992, nn. 14-15).

The Apostle Paul is quite clear when speaking about the ministerial constitution of the Church in apostolic times: "And God has appointed in the Church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers..." (1 Cor 12:28; cf. Eph 4:7, 11-13; Rom 12:4-8). In some texts referring to the early Church, the co-workers of the apostles are given the title "elders", which is the origin of the term "presbiteri", "presbyteroi" (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Tit 1:5; 1 Pet 5:1-4) But it is Paul’s reflection throughout on the "apostolate" and on "charisms" that is directed towards the priesthood of the Church’s ministers. So we can say that the ordained ministry is founded on the apostolic succession, in so far as it continues the mission received by the Apostles from Christ, wholly at the service of the Church. Both the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood, "though they differ essentially are not only in degree" - as stated in a well-known text of the Second Vatican Council (Lumen Gentium, 10) "are none the less ordered one to another; each in its own proper way shares in the one priesthood of Christ".

When we return to the participation and co-responsibility of the laity in the communion and mission of the Church, we cannot fail to include the "secular character" peculiar to them. Weber stresses this "being Christians in the world". Their witness is given essentially in the everyday situation of family and social life (cf. Lumen Gentium 31,35,38; Apostolicam Actuositatem, 7; Evangelii Nuntiandi, 70). "Secular" in this context certainly does not mean separated from Christ. Rather, it means being called to recapitulate in Him all sectors of human experience. It is clear that we have gone beyond the superficiality that tended to attribute the sacred to the clergy and the secular to the laity. The whole Church has a "secular dimension"; living in the world, but not being of the world. If this "secular character" is considered not a sociological but a theological factor that characterises the being of the lay faithful, it is imperative that there should be a renewed heological reflection aimed at giving it an adequate definition. At this level I find enlightening two approaches that are intimately related in the draft presented to us: a reflection on theology of creation and on Christian anthropology ("image of God"). But the stress on the commitment of lay people in the world has, above all, a pastoral and missionary significance. We have to go beyond any form of withdrawal of the laity or of "ecclesiastical" narrowness; to overcome also the growing divorce between the faith that is professed and "secular" existence. The Christian witness of the laity must be affirmed and communicated in all fields of the life of society: in politics, in the economy, in popular movements, in scientific research and artistic creation, in the mass media.

More than ever - as has been pointed out - the support of the whole Christian community is essential in order that the "diaspora", in all environments and activities, may not mean only a "dispersion", leaving lay Christians extremely vulnerable to becoming conformed, assimilated, to the worldly life-styles of a prevailing culture, that is becoming more and more de-Christianised. In face of the contemporary trend that trivialises human conscience and experience, Christians are called to bear witness to a newness of life: to a life made more human through the encounter with Christ, a life corresponding to the longing for truth, happiness and justice that is co-natural to the human heart and expressed in deep concern for one’s own destiny and that of others. In this way can develop a strong urge for mission in every human environment, involving great challenges for lay Christians: at the service of persons, families and peoples, in solidarity with the poor, in a commitment for freedom, justice and peace, rendering everywhere "reason for the hope that is in us".

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