This is the third post in a series that I started by saying that I know in my heart what I mean, but I may express it so poorly that I will be misunderstood. This post I think can even be more easily misunderstood than the previous ones – but I think the concept is important enough to attempt, in spite of possible misunderstanding.
The first post in the series was on contemplative community.
The second post in the series was contemplative community 2.
I begin by emphasising I am convinced that the vocations of lay, deacon, priest, and bishop are different and equal.
Traditional Christian theories of growth in the spiritual life regularly have three stages: Purgative, Illuminative, Unitive; or Catharsis, Fotisis, Theosis… St. Maximus the Confessor (c. 580 – 662) correlates these three stages with the diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopate. This echoes Dionysios the Areopagite and is picked up by St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain.
It would be easy to misinterpret what I am attempting to say in a clericalist manner, and placing one order superior to another. It might help (or it might confuse) if I use a parallel from James Fowler’s stages of faith. IMO one should not be ordained until the person is at least at stage 5 of Fowler’s stages. Briefly, those at stages 3 and 4 are too much in danger of attempting to replicate their own particular experience rather than allowing a person to flourish into what God calls them to. So whilst I am saying that all those ordained should be at least stage 5 – I am not at all saying that all those who are stage 5 are called to ordination. In other words, I would expect a significant number of lay people in the Christian community to be stage 5.
Similarly, I want to listen to what is positive in the tradition, and posit that in order to be ordained one should be well-advanced on the spiritual journey, the contemplative path, the journey into union with God. I stress again, this is not a clericalism that does not expect high union with God amongst laity, but it is a position that expects Christian leadership to be at home in the life of the Spirit and able to lead others into that, including the whole community they lead in worship.
The Eastern tradition of only choosing as bishops those who have been formed as monks has a similar insight – that we place the contemplative community’s leadership in the hands of those who have committed themselves and are well along the contemplative journey themselves.