Wednesday, August 29, 2007

And another thing, Barney: The Meaning of "Lay"

In the same article to which I refer in the blog below, Barney Zwartz writes:
On power, the Catholic Church has long treated priests and those in religious orders as a higher caste, separate and superior to laypeople. It doesn't even have a collective term for all members in the way that nations have "citizens" — a category to which the newest Australian belongs as much as the Prime Minister — because the primary meaning of "laypeople" is non-clerics.
This is a combination of a gross distortion and a falsehood. Lets start with the falsehood.

The term "lay people" is one of those tautologous terms like the place name "Penhill Hill" ("Pen" is old English for hill). "Lay" comes from the greek "ho laos" which means "the people". As in "The People of God" (or Das Volk Gottes) (eg. Heb 4:9). Vatican II and Papa Benny are particularly keen on this idea. Thus the term "laity" does not primarily mean "not clerical", just as the term "Catholic" does not primarily mean "non-Protestant" or "non-Orthodox".

And the gross distortion is the suggestion that the Church regards "and those in religious orders as a higher caste, separate and superior to laypeople". This may have been the case that for a period (eg. some centuries before the Reformation), but it is not the case in either doctrine or practice in the 21st Century. The doctrines of vocation and charisms have raised up (and praised up) all valid callings, religious or secular, as equal paths to holiness and sainthood. The pope who taught us most on this was John Paul II, and I challenge Barney or anyone else to find anything in his writings (or indeed in the teachings of the Church today) which even suggests that priesthood or religious life is a calling more holy than (eg.) motherhood or garbage collecting.

2 Comments:

At Wednesday, August 29, 2007 2:53:00 pm , Blogger Athanasius said...

According to Catholica, Robinson has done an 'explosive' interview with Stephen Crittenden this week. The Bishop keeps some odd company, doesn't he?

Naturally, Brian Coyne doesn't think he goes far enough...

 
At Wednesday, August 29, 2007 3:54:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

I think you're confusing etymology and meaning, David. "Lay" may well be derived from a Greek word meaning "people", but it doesn't follow that it means all people. The term is nearly always used to distinguish non-clerics from clerics, and I think it's fair to say that that is its primary meaning. In fact, I don;t recall ever seeing it used to refer to the whole people of God.

As for the bit about clerics being a superior species, from a theological point of view this is of course nonsense. But if we are honest we have to admit that the church is to some extent affected by a culture of clericalism, in which the situation of clerics needs, and gets, more attention than the situation of others. An important dimension of the sex abuse crisis is the general inadequacy of the institutional response to the problem, the focus on the situation of the cleric, the provision of treatment and supervision for him, transferring him to a new position, etc, with relatively little thought apparently given to the situation of victims, and of potential future victims. I find it hard to believe that bishops as a class recognised that they had every bit as great an obligation to be a father to the victims of sexual abuse as they did to the abusers. What father would expose his children to such a danger? I think we have to name a culture of clericalism as having contributed to this problem. (Besides, it makes a change from blaming celibacy.)

 

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