Thursday, April 1, 2010

Only Great Men Can Make Great Men (Part II)

Only Great Men Can Make Great Men continued-

Whatever can be said about the Popes of the last two millennia can be said of the Bishops and Priests as well. Like the father of a family, the Pontiff, the supreme head of the Catholic Church, quite often sets the tone for the rest of its members.

To ask the same question another way: What was it about the Popes of the second thousand years of Christianity that differed from their predecessors of the first thousand years?

A book published in 1832 titled, Of the Five Wounds of the Holy Church, points us in the right direction. It was written by a Catholic priest by the name of Fr. Antonio Rosmini. In his book, he unearths common pastoral practices of the early Church Fathers that had literally been forgotten. So novel (but yet so traditional) were his ideas that his book was censored by the Vatican. A year before his death, however, Of the Five Wounds of the Holy Church was vindicated and no longer censored. Like most men ahead of their times, his ideas were treated with suspicion. With that said- and despite the opposition he merited from his book -he managed to win the favor of Pope Pius VIII, Gregory XVI and Pius XI.

Arguably one of Fr. Rosmini’s most important points is this: “In the early ages of the Church, the Bishop’s house was the seminary of his priests and deacons.” He goes on to say the following:

• “It is to this system that we owe the eminent Pastors for whom the first six centuries of the Church were so remarkable. By means of this full and perfect system the sacred deposit of Divine and Apostolic doctrine was faithfully transmitted from one to another through informal and oral communication.”

• "They believed that the words of the Pastor, appointed by Christ to rule and teach the Church, derived a special and unique efficacy from the Divine Founder. This belief imparted supernatural life and energy to the doctrines taught, so that they made and indelible impression on men’s minds. As a result, there was a constant supply of great men…the Bishop of old diffused and reproduced himself in the young clergy, being to them teacher, pastor, and father; adding dignity to the compact body of the priesthood, and securing a healthy influence over the people."

Christ personally formed his Apostles not only by preaching and giving instruction but through informal conversations and spending time with them. During his three year public ministry Jesus did not rely on formal and systematic education. He did not send his disciples off to school. He took the responsibility upon himself to make them into his own image.

So that his Apostles and their successors could do the same, Christ conferred on them a special power. This power is none other than the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The fullness of this sacrament resided in the Apostles but was then transmitted to the Bishops. With this power, the Bishop not only to educated in the first several centuries, but he personally inspired, formed and guided his seminarians and priests. Truly, his house was the seminary!

Unfortunately, this responsibility of the Bishop ended up being delegated to other priests and professors towards the end of the first millennium. Seminaries and universities eventually took over what the Bishop used to do. Hence, the Bishop, who is endowed to form hearts and minds with the full force of Holy Orders, became less of a factor in this process of raising the next generation of priests. “The constant supply of great men” began to wane.

Other points from Of the Five Wounds of the Holy Church in my next blog.

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