Hierarchical Function Is Service

Author: Pope Paul VI


Pope Paul VI

Paul VI devoted the address delivered on March 12th. at the General Audience in St. Peter's to the topic of service, so often recalled by the Council. The text is as follows:

Beloved Sons and Daughters!

In the postconciliar reflection We must make on the Council's moralteachings one theme returns to Our mind, as one of the most insistent in the conciliar texts, and one of the most important for the perennial reconquest the Church must make of her own authenticity, consistency and fidelity to the original and formative intention of Christ with regard to her. It is the theme of service.

The economy of salvation is presented and developed in a plan of service, which gives a characteristic stamp to the whole Gospel and to what follows it, that is Christianity, that is the Church. If the break in the life-giving relationship between God and mankind resulted from in act of rebellion on the part of man, eager for an independence that was to be fatal to him, with the cry: "I will not serve" (Jer. 2, 20), reparation could only come through a contrary attitude, the one assumed by Jesus, the Saviour, to whom, in the Epistle to the Hebrews (10, 57, ss.), the following words ire attributed: "Coming into the world he said: ... Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God, as it is written of me in the roll of the book" (Cfr. Ps. 39, 8-9). Jesus wishes to accentuate the restoration of order, which reflects divine thought on human destiny bound to the loving rule of God, to such an extent as to appear as a servant; "Formam servi accipiens" (Phil. 2; 7), says St. Paul: assuming the form of a slave. "He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross " (ib. 8). And since obedience is the virtue of the slave, for that very reason the Lord professed it: " Not my will, but thine (O Father) be done" (Luke 22, 42). Thus he consummated the terrible and appalling sacrifice of the Cross.

Evangelical teachings

Christ had spoken of service, it willbe remembered, to define the programme of his coming among men: "The Son of man (so Jesus spoke of himself) also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10, 45). He had made it a precept for his apostles, as if to define the character and the function of the power conferred on them, and in general of man's authority over his fellow men: "... Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves" (Luke 22, 26). We could multiply quotations connected with the evangelical teachings of humility, obedience, poverty, charity.

And although We have spoken on another occasion of this theme of service, of "diakonia" (cfr. "Lumen Gentium" n. 24), we are mentioning it again because of the importance the Council has given to it in many of its documents. It is a recurrent theme in them, and we must keep it in mind. Keep it in mind! We find just this expression, which seems charged with a deep psychological sense and in intention of evangelical renewal, in a page of the dogmatic constitution on the Church, where it is said textually; "The Church also keeps in mind..."! (Lumen Gentium n. 42). The Council is aware how this idea of service meets with instinctive opposition in the modern mentality, which exalts the personality, the autonomy, the freedom, the spontaneous and unruly conscience of man. It is hampered by old traditions that have clothed the exercise of authority in worldly prestige and external honour, and sometimes in ambition, selfishness and pomp. Hence the Council repeats at every step its reminder of the idea of service, especially as the justification of the pastoral function (Lumen Gentium nn. 27 and 32), as the principle of priestly formation (Opt. totius, n. 4), as a need of the priestly ministry (Presb. Ord. n. 15), as the purpose of missionary activity (Ad gentes, n. 3), as availability qualifying the presence of the Church in the world (Gaudium et Spes, nn. 3 ad 11); and so on.

Attitude of modern mail

Now, when We speak of service, We seem to notice a double reaction among our listeners, the first rather negative, to the extent that this informing principle of human and Christian education may concern them. As We said just now: modern man does not want to feel he is the servant of any authority and of any law. His highly developed instinct of freedom inclines him to caprice, licence and even anarchy. Within the Church herself the idea of service, and therefore of obedience, meets with many contestations, even in the seminaries (cfr.in the review " Seminarium ", October-December 1968, the fine article of Card. Garrone, p. 553, ss.). It will be well to remember, on the contrary, that this idea of service is a constitutional one for the spirit of every Christian. It is all the more so for the Christian called to the exercise of any function: of example, of charity, of apostolate, of collaboration, of responsibility; and that especially in ecclesial circles, where there is a continuous and stimulating need for solidarity, mutual help, unity, love. Do not let us forget the exhortation of the Apostle: "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Gal. 6, 2) The second reaction, which is not expressed, perhaps, but arises in the subconscious, is perhaps one of satisfaction, because it is thought that the admonition to service is referred more directly to authority, mortifies it in its ambitions and in its powers, and puts it on a lower level than those over whom it is exercised.

Power and responsibility

It isquite true. We accept this reference of the idea of service to authority, or rather to the exercise, the function, the aim of authority. Let us even say: of the hierarchy. Not that the latter derives its power, as in democratic regimes, from the community and is accountable to it for its own "raison d'être". It is true that "the hierarchical office exists for the community and not vice versa" (Löhrer), and that authority in the Church, according to the famous Augustinian formula, is not so much to dominate as to be of use; not for one's own prestige but for the utility of others: "... ut nos bovis non tam praeesse, quam prodesse delectet " (Serm. 340; P.L. 38, 1484; cfr. Conger: L'Episcopat et I'Eglise universelle, n. 67-99). The hierarchical function is service. This is a thought that We Ourself try to keep in mind always. We feel its enormous weight; and We experience at the same time its immense energy. For this authority, which imposes on Us a duty to all (cfr. Rom. 1, 14) and makes Us the servant of all, weighs as an unbearable responsibility upon Our weak shoulders. And this in a twofold direction: towards Christ, from whom We receive everything and to whom We owe everything, and towards the People of God, of whom he, the Lord, has made Us Pastor, in his stead, with all the tremendous and sublime consequences this title involves. But at the same time this same title is a profession, or rather a source of charity. Authority in the Church is a service of charity, an exercise of love (cfr. Gal. 5, 13); and love is God's strength, which makes us able to do greater, superhuman things, if necessary.

And so, beloved Sons, We have a wish to manifest to you: that you will pray for Us, so that We may be really faithful in the service entrusted to Us: to Christ, as We were saying, and to you and to the Church (cfr. Hebr. 13, 17). We know very well that Our service (cfr. I Peter 5, 3) requires Us to conform Our life to a model of Christian perfection (cfr. I Peter 5, 3). It requires Us to shape also the exterior aspect of Our apostolic office according to a style of evident authenticity. And for this, as We are helped by the example of the Saints, of Our Confrères and of the good faithful, so let your affection and your prayer assist Us. In return We whole-heartedly bestow upon you Our Apostolic Blessing.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
20 March 1969, page 1

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