Author: Lakeland, Paul
Date published: March 1, 2013
BUILDERS OF COMMUNITY: RETHINKING ECCLESIASTICAL MINISTRY. By José Ignacio González Faus. Translated from Spanish by María Isabel Reyna. Revised by Liam Kelly. Miami, FL: Convivium, 2012. Pp. 165. $21.99.
Catalan theologian Faus is not well known to Anglophone audiences, so we are indebted to the enterprising Convivium Press for including this book on the future of ministry in their growing series of theological translations into English. The title of the work is in the spirit of the author's intentions, although it is somewhat misleading. F. is clearly preoccupied with the present state of ministry in the Catholic Church and what this might mean for the future. But his reflections on present and future fill only the last 20 pages of the book. Nevertheless, the preparatory work is important since the whole thrust of the argument is that the present and future of ministry needs to pay more attention to the lessons of the past.
The work is divided into four sections of roughly equal length. In the first, F. explores the meaning of the term "priest" in the New Testament, concluding that it is recovered by the Letter to the Hebrews as applying only to Jesus, and that the New Testament as a whole studiously avoids using "priest" for the leaders of the Christian community. There is instead a "new lexicon" of apostle, deacon, bishop, and so on, which do not confer priestly status but rather associate Christian leaders with the sacrificial self-surrender of Jesus. Ecclesial ministry is not priestly, but sacrificial, living for the sake of the community, which is the only churchly reality to be called priestly. The second section explores the development of thinking about ministry within the first century, particularly in the Pastoral Epistles, and concludes that replacing talk about clergy and laity with talk about the duality community/ministries is supported by NT evidence and, says F., is "binding for the whole of the Church today" (93).
In chapter 3 F. turns to the well-worn path of the clericalization of ministry in the post-NT history of the church. He rehearses the story of how the terms "laity" and kleroi developed and changed. The process by which the church ministries of the early period became clericalized and later developed into ecclesiastical functionaries is problematic for F., most of all because it is increasingly forgetful of the church's missionary character. With the triumph of clericalization the Church turned in upon itself. F.'s argument about clericalization is not especially novel, with the important qualification that he places the beginnings of the process at a much earlier date than many historians who, by and large, see the Gregorian reforms as the critical moment.
The concluding section in which F. applies his studies to the contemporary church begins with the observation that profound changes in the shape of ecclesia! ministry are quite possible, since the lessons of Scripture and tradition are that dramatic change in response to changing circumstances has been the norm. "The only binding thing for the Church," says F., "because it proceeds from Jesus, is the apostolate with a collegial structure and in communion with its head" (143). Moreover, since history has shown us examples of steps backward like returning to Old Testament models or neo-Platonic hierarchies, it is quite possible to discard such problematic elements in favor of ministry that returns to the pattern of following Jesus. We need to reverse history and go from tradition to charity, thinks F. While the early church's shift from a focus on charisms to "posts" was understandable and even, to a degree, necessary at that time, the subsequent step from "post" to career is much more ambiguous, and the step from career to sacred status is "to be avoided at all costs" (129). The model for ecclesial ministry is not "Christ Jesus" but the servant Jesus who died to his own ego (33).
While the general argumentative drift of the book is not especially new, the details F. provides in the process are often fascinating and truly creative. His practical applications in the final pages include important discussions of the need to avoid Donatisi ideas of a smaller and purer church and the advisability of rethinking the relationship between presidency of the Eucharist and the leadership of the community of faith.
All this energizing theological reflection, however, is imperiled by the material reality of the book. Convivium produces books of considerable beauty with excellent typefaces and lovely paper, yet they show signs of poor judgment and even editorial laziness. This one is overly burdened with poor proofreading, some of it absurd (Ugno Christi somehow becomes lingo Christi), and even worse for a scholarly text, the book has no index. Worst of all, the footnotes reference any text not originally written in English in the Spanish edition rather than in the original or in an English translation. These decisions save money but make it less likely - more's the pity - that more scholars will become better acquainted with F.'s work.
Fairfield University, CT PAUL LAKELAND