Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Deacon Reader" Summer Reading 1

In the Introduction, Dcn. Keating writes that this collection of essays hopes to help clarify "the fundamental identity of the deacon" (1). We have to grasp what we are being called to, sufficiently that we can love our vocation. "In loving one's vocation, the conditions for the possibility of becoming a saint are established" (2). Please keep this ultimate goal in mind as we dig in to this summer reading.

It's fairly reasonable to start by asking, what has the identity of the deacon been in the past?

Fr. Enright's first essay gives an historical overview. He gives some indication of his method:

First methodological point: "[T]he historical movement of a great idea [in the Church] is from the implicit to the explicit. Therefore, the following trip through diaconal history starts out by uncovering the implicit roots of the order in the early church" (8). He clarifies a bit more: "As Kenan Osborne, OFM, cautions, when it comes to New Testament data about any ecclesial matters, one has to be careful not to read into texts anachronistically what appears at a later time in the Church's history" (9); and "The New Testament as we know it today was not completely formed into a canon until well into the fourth century..." (9). So he starts by looking at the apostolic information about the earliest diaconate through a somewhat skeptical historical lens. It's possible to take this skepticism too far; let's be careful not to be skeptical about dogma.

Second methodological point: "The history of the diaconate is painted in a very organic way by its intimate relationship to Jesus himself, whose whole life was diaconal, "to the point of death - death on a cross" (Phil 2:8), and to the call made by Jesus to all baptized Christians to be his servants in the world" (8). So the identity of the diaconate is assumed (not unreasonably, but note it's an assumption) to have some particular relationship to the two priesthoods in Christ (ordained, sacrificial priesthood, and common, baptismal priesthood). We should be alert to see if this relationship gets defined in this essay (or elsewhere in this book). This relationship should also provide a consistent element of continuity across whatever historical changes might surface.

Third methodological point: "At first all the ministries were verbs, the doing of something for the Christian community, but later they became nouns, designated offices" (8). He's suggesting that the earliest deacons defined their role by what they did, rather than doing whatever they did because it was "proper" to their "office" to do this but not that. There's a certain truth to this, but again, one mustn't take this point too far. We should understand that whatever the earliest deacons did was not entirely open-ended, nor defined only historically. If it's true that the diaconate is part of the sacrament of Holy Orders (which we believe dogmatically), and that all the sacraments are given to the Church by Christ in some way (which we also believe dogmatically), then the diaconate is given to the Church by Christ. So it has something inherent in it that the Church receives, not creates - presumably, that core diaconal relationship to the priesthood of Christ noted in the previous point.

Having noticed these three methodological points, let's look at his actual argument. He starts (see p. 8) with the most important NT passages on the diaconate: Acts 6:1-6, 1 Tim 3:13 (really 8-13), Phil 1:1, and Rom 16:1-2. But (perhaps in the interests of space in this book?) he seems to use the first methodological point to skip over much of the detail these passages contain. He's got just two brief point on the bottom of p. 8, but then passes on to post-Scriptural Church writings.

So, here are your discussion questions:

1) What are the two points from Acts 6 he makes on p. 8? Do you agree with these two points?

2) What else do you think Acts 6 means for the fundamental identity of the diaconate? (And in reading Acts 6, it's also important to read what Philip and Stephen actually do in Acts 7 and 8.)

3) What do the other three passages listed add to Acts 6?

Then we'll look at what he says about other apostolic and patristic texts.


pmkestel said...

Just my my copy of the Deacon Reader today. I'll have to get caught up with the reading.

Dan said...

My book is still in transit, so I can't speak from that perspective yet. Something did strike me though when I was thinking about the "common presthood" the baptized share through Christ...
Would it be appropriate to say all baptized share in a "common diaconate"? Since service is at the heart of that, then I would think it would/should be shared by all.
The other thing that stirred my mind in reading the passages was that the apostles needed to keep busy with formulating doctrine. This at first made me think they were too busy to help out the common folk - an impression of superiority. However, as I thought more about it, they were doing this important task for the common folk!

Deacon David said...

In a purely practical sense, yes, there is a "common diaconate" of the baptised, which deacons "sacramentalize." This looks like a nice parallel to the common and ministerial priesthood. But theologically, it's not a nice parallel, because the ministry of the deacon is part of the ministerial priesthood - specifically, the ministry of proclaiming the Gospel, proper to the bishop's fullness of orders and delegated in part to deacons and priests both. So the "common diaconate" likewise is part of the "common priesthood." The theological difficulty is that there is only one priesthood in Jesus Christ, so how to disentangle the parts in a coherent way, that still preserves both the oneness of Holy Orders, and also the difference of the sacerdos ("in persona Christi," etc). from the diakonos (not a sacerdos, but still ordained and different "in essence not only in degree" from baptismal serving).