A Mode of living as Presbyterium
IRENEUS of Antioch fought against the Gnostics because his main priority was the unity of the Church and therefore of the presbyterium. He become famous through his words that priests should be united with their bishop as strings to a lyre. Therefore harmony in thought and heart is necessary in Presbyterium as a good melody which could come out from this unity—a beautiful musical prayer to God.
On his time as a bishop of Lyons he was especially concerned with the Gnostics, who took their name from the Greek word for “knowledge.” They are those who claiming access to secret knowledge imparted by Jesus to only a few disciples. To know this “secret” for them is a gateway to heaven.
The Pope in his recent letter Gaudete et Exaltate presents the danger of neo-Gnosticism. Together with Neo Pelagianism these are “false forms of holiness that can lead us astray” He says the “Gnostics think that their explanations can make the entirety of the faith and the Gospel perfectly comprehensible. They absolutize their own theories and force others to submit to their way of thinking.”
This could take varied forms. Perhaps what could be opined is even without realizing it, this form of false sanctity could exist with those who are near the confines of a limited group of priests around the bishop. They are those considered as an elite group, the confidants or the cordon sanitaire around the bishop who could think that to attain joy and happiness is to enter within this confines as if their knowledge assures them of their internal joy. They could develop themselves into an “ecclesiastical click” and have the air of being better than the other priests since they know something better which only they enjoy and could become closed to the other ideas and opinion of their other brother priests. Moreover, deviated competition among its members could creep in, in order that one could consciously or unconsciously fall in the ambit of the bishop’s graces, at the expense of other brother priests. This becomes worst if it motivated by careerism and love of financial gains. On some cases, there is the element of secrecy and the seeming knowledge of these secrets appear to be the key to salvific joy.
Of course, as was noted, this is only the least manifestation of neo-Gnosticism. Other forms could be more dangerous like the theoritical ones: the pharisaical resort to extreme traditionalism that freezes the gospel from being creative and active in today’s time. The Pope says: “when somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right road.” Indeed, “someone who wants everything to be clear and sure presumes to control God’s transcendence.” He insists, that “doctrine, or better, our understanding and expression of it, is not a closed system, devoid of the dynamic capacity to pose questions, doubts, inquiries… The questions of our people, their suffering, their struggles, their dreams, their trials, and their worries, all possess an interpretational value that we cannot ignore if we want to take the principle of the incarnation seriously.”
This is not the unity which St. Ireneaus of Antioch is talking about. In the local church, his words are normative even to the bishops, priests and the consecrated persons: “It is impossible to live without life, and the actualization of life comes from participation in God, while participation in God is to see God and enjoy his goodness.” Why are some of us do not enjoy or experience the true joy? Why is it that among the priests and religious there is “in-groups and out-groups”? Priests who are in the graces of the bishop and outside the circle of the the bishop’s circle of love? Why is it that even among priests there is a glaring dis-equality even in terms of standard allowances? How could we ignore “questions of our people, [also our priests or consecrated persons], their suffering, their struggles, their dreams, their trials, and their worries?”
Actualization of our lives comes from the participation in God. This participation could not but be presbyterial and communal. The first and original community is the community of the divine persons in the Holy Trinity which is the true model of any authentic community and local churches. Participation in God is participation inside this Trinitarian life: a life of equal dignity if freedom and joy. This process of actualization in the life of the presbyterium based in the life of God, is the process towards equality in dignity, not so much in authority (for authority is service), but a working out together—priests and bishops alike—in humility and mutual respect towards true equality in dignity that eliminates “clicks” and a tendency towards neo-Gnosticism or at least its manifestation.
“Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God”. Some would translate this phrase as: the glory of God is man fully alive. In the face of death and the threats of death towards priests, it seems that the reality which our saint wishes us to live is the best antidote in our present times where even those of our brothers are killed twice by more deadly malignant propaganda.
The words of the former bishop of Antioch reechoes even to his brother bishops of today: “The glory of God gives life; those who see God receive life. For this reason God, who cannot be grasped, comprehended or seen, allows himself to be seen, comprehended and grasped by men, that he may give life to those who see and receive him.”
We are all invited to live as shepherds and encourage our own shepherds to discover if we are all giving this life to one another; others wise, we allow the spirit of death to conquer the local church from the center through petty intrigues, malicious slander and sometimes even through the sin of detraction.
True unity in our local churches depends so much on the true unity of the bishop and its presbyters where they could together participate in the life of the Trinitarian God and enjoy His goodness. In this, we could be glad and be joyful and even death in all its forms could not separate us from Him who continuously gives us true unity and life.