Friday, October 26, 2007

Quaker Plain Speech and Independent Catholic Clergy

John Plummer has an interesting post, which I heartily recommend reading, criticizing the excess of clericalism in our movement, particularly all of the grand titles which people insist on using.

I work for a Quaker organization, and Quakers have a tradition of "plain speech" in which, among other things, they refuse to use titles of any kind, even to the point of children addressing their parents as "John" or "Mary" rather than "Dad" or "Mom". When we send out fundraising letters, they go to "John Smith" or "Mary Jones", not "Mr. John Smith" or "Dr. Mary Jones" or "The Right Reverend Anastasia Beaverhausen" (which begs the question of who might be the Wrong Reverend . . . ). The envelope will include a middle initial, with the salutation being the first and last names.

The practice has much to commend it. Although there is a time and a place for titles, I wonder what would happen if more Independent clergy would introduce themselves without titles most of the time, and let their ministry speak for itself, than insisting on being called "Father Zophar the Nephite" or "His Beatitude Alexander the Coppersmith, Patriarch of Sodom and Gomorrah and All Canaan"? Perhaps we could add this to John Plummer's Advent discipline.

8 comments:

John Plummer said...

Personally I prefer The Left Reverend....

Actually, I think Quaker plain speech (also practiced in related forms by other heirs of the Radical Reformation) has much to commend it. Thanks for raising it

lukacs said...

But, ahem, Your Excellency, we aren't Quakers, we're Catholics. We believe in the apostolic succession and the threefold orders. We respect the orders as well as the women and men who take them, because they have been handed down from the earliest Church ancestors, sometimes in the midst of bloody martyrdom and terrible sacrifice. I think we have to keep the reverence due to these orders in mind when considering these matters, even as we question the pride that can sunder those who take them.

Tim Cravens said...

Lukacs,

You're absolutely right -- we do believe in the apostolic succession and the threefold orders and should have respect for the ministries. There is a time and a place for the use of titles, and some clergy may shun some of the trappings that have grown up over time for unhealthy reasons. Although specifically the use of a title, I do remember that at the non-denominational divinity school I attended, the RC priest (a PhD student) told the RC student group that he didn't think the weekly RC worship necessarily had to be Mass, because he wanted to offer others an opportunity to preside -- and I think that this is wrong, because in fact the clergy ARE the ones specially set apart, above all, to lead worship, particularly the Eucharist, which is the central act of Catholic Christian worship. Now, certainly laypeople can lead the office -- but that should not replace the Eucharist as the central act of worship, which he wanted to do in a misguided effort to avoid clericalism where it didn't exist.

On the other hand, in my experience, the vast majority of independent clergy are in much greater danger of overusing titles in an effort to bolster their egos or to make up a deficit of self-esteem. And my post was directed to clergy, not laity -- the clergy should be less quick to use titles and insist upon them -- if laity find the use of the titles helpful and want to use them in addressing the clergy, that is a much different matter than the clergy always using them -- or worse yet, insisting upon being addressed by them.

Tim Cravens said...

I meant "not specifically the use of a title" in the second paragraph . . .

lukacs said...

Excellency, your point is well taken; I did read the entry from the perspective of a lay person, and didn't fully consider the matter of clergy using their titles in an egotistical manner, as you describe, especially given all of the exaggerated titles that seem to have proliferated in some corners of the ISM. That said, I do think that Catholic laity should pay due attention to the sacerdotalist element of our traditions, without falling prey to clericalism; there is good reason to show a certain deference to these orders, given their function in the Eucharist-centered worship that you describe.

David O. Kling said...

Reminds me of a passage from "The Stranger" by Albert Camus where the priest is talking with Meursault (a man in prison waiting for execution):

"He wanted to talk to me about God again, but I went up to him and made one last attempt to explain to him that I had only a little time left and I didn't want to waste it on God. He tried to change the subject by asking me why I was calling him "monsieur" and not "father." That got me mad, and I told him he wasn't my father; he wasn't even on my side."

Lyngine said...

:) I'm currently amused that none of the three bishops commenting are using their titles :).

This is an interesting issue from a lay person standpoint. My preference is to not generally use titles in referring to clergy. Not out of disrespect for their office or due to lack of reverence, but because the lack of a title reminds me that those who serve as clergy are more than just deacon, priest, or bishop. That in many ways, they are more than their title and office---and that while they are indeed set apart, they are also human. And that because they are human, they will have good and bad days. Because they are human, they have the ability to understand my experiences because they are not so far removed from my reality. That because they are human, their lives can serve as example to my own. Because they are human, I do not expect or need them to be perfect. Because they are human, I am often humbled as I watch them grapple with the gravity of their respective callings and how to live their faith with integrity in the midst of daily human life. As unintuitive as it seems, the lack of title, for me, magnifies the meaning of their priesthood, as a reality that extends beyond their sacramental duties into their daily lives.

---------------

I do want to emphasize though that my approach isn't one that all laity find meaningful or helpful, and I very much respect that. I'm not advocating any particular approach for laity or clergy because each choice is so dependent on context and an individual's spirituality.

Fr. Joseph Augustine, AIHM said...

Lyngine,

What a wonderful Augustinian spirit you have!

"Because they are human, they have the ability to understand my experiences because they are not so far removed from my reality. That because they are human, their lives can serve as example to my own. Because they are human, I do not expect or need them to be perfect. Because they are human, I am often humbled as I watch them grapple with the gravity of their respective callings and how to live their faith with integrity in the midst of daily human life."

As St. Augustine said, "FOR you I am bishop, WITH you I am Christian."