HERE are two sorts of Christians," wrote Gratian, a 12th century
jurist, affirming categorically a distinction which was by then firmly made between clergyman and layman. The legal division had not been native to the early Church, but had grown up in the third century when certain privileges bestowed on the pagan clergy by the Roman Empire were transferred to the Christian clergy.
Second class membership belongs to the laity. spiritually the "other ranks". They form the ecclesia discens. the learning Church, whose main duty seems to be to reverence and obey the clergy. The best sort of Christian life open to them seems to be one of implicit obedience. If they can help the priest and do a lot of Church work, they become clericalised laymen, "loyal" to the Church. Whatever they do. however, they arc eternally subordinate. "as if their whole vocation", as an American bishop said, "were summed up in four words: believe, pray, obey and pay".
Ile was speaking not in agreement with but in criticism of this ancient tradition. For as many of the bishops in Council have seen. it is paralysing the vast spiritual potential of the laity. The layman's ways are not the priest's ways and he needs his own theology. and his own status, "no longer treated as a mere delegate of the clergy and the hierarchy, but accepted as having his own special place in the mission 01 the Church as a layman. a man whose special lay role is defined and approved by the Church". (Bishop Drimeau: Council Speeches of Vatican H.)
There is a pressing need for such definition especially in England where there is a growing restlessness on the part of laymen at the state of "fixation" we are in. where the relationships of bishops and laymen are semi-feudal. The older and less articulate among English Catholics still adhere happily to this pattern, finding much comfort, doubtless, in the unquestioning acceptance of an authority believed (simpliciter) to be divinely inspired. But there is an increasingly articulate note of criticism in the air. The heavy and responsible lay criticism of the Hierarchy's recent pronouncement on birth control, and the discontent felt at the delay and secrecy of the bishops' deliberations over the liturgical changes decided on by Vatican II, are symptomatic of a radical conflict over the very nature of the Church, or at least the layman's position in it. The conflict of views is not between clergy and laity, but rather between conservative and progressive elements in the Church. In England however, the ecclesiastical authorities, and many laymen with them. arc ultra-conservative. So the division here takes on the appearance of clerical versus anticlericals.
In fact it goes much deeper. Many laymen can no longer accept the present clerical monopoly of matters religious and moral, Laymen have so much insight and experience of a kind which priests, by the very nature or their vocations, are excluded from that they cannot much longer be debarred from their proper share in formulating the pastoral theology of the Church.
At present, the ancient docens/ discens division officially rules out laymen. Laymen, though present at the Council, were only obser
Yet they, too. by virtue of Baptism and Confirmation, have a priesthood to fulfil. This longforgotten doctrine of the priesthood of all believers has at last been found again. It must inevitably come more and more to the forefront to curb and complement the view of the Church merely as a clerical (and hierarchical) institution. A theology of the layman, not just for him, is the pressing need.
At the Council. Bishop de Sotedt of Bruges developed this theme of the kind of priesthood exercised by the layman. "Through the layman Christ wants to make use of technological and scientific progress so that the whole human family may live in a genuinely more human fashion, may have wider access to the benefit of culture, may more folly reach the true peace, happiness and freedom of the sons Of God, waiting expectantly for the joy they hope for and the coming of the Lord. In this way the redemption of Christ truly 'takes on Flesh' in earthly realities."
Despite the spiritually liberating statements being made by the more progressive bishops in Council, however, the Church in England seems still immersed in paternalism and clericalism. The blame (if there is blame) does not necessarily lie with the clergy alone, but as Patrick O'Donovan pointed out in an address to the clergy, if laymen have become accustomed to sub
servience then the liberating impulse must come from above. People must be told to use their initiative.
"this may be hard. The clergy, being human, may find it difficult to lay aside ancient privilege and authority : the layman, never having experienced full spiritual maturity, must grow into a new relationship with his Holy Mother the Church.
It may he that the layman can only grope dimly for his new status in the Church. Here again the bishops in Council (or at least some of them) have given a lead. A "thin red line" running through their utterances, as Professor Roegele said in the C.H. recently, is that the layman is not any longer to be considered as a delegate of the priest. Holiness for him is not clerical, least of all monastic, holiness.
The Church needs his insight and experience. "A spirituality truly adapted to the laity," said Cardinal Leger, "can be elaborated only if lay people participate in ever greater numbers in the intellectual life of the Church". He stressed also that laymen should teach in faculties of religious sciences and in seminaries.
It is impossible for the clergy much longer to be burdened with the sole say, for instance, in the morals and theology of family life and social relationships. II is true that in isolated cases, specialised laymen are lecturing to and teaching the clergy. Much more is needed, however. in the form of statutory machinery through which the layman can make his contribution to the councils of the church.
At diocesan level. lay institutes are needed. where laymen, especially those with special learning or training, would maintain responsible communications with bishops and pastors. These institutes, though collaborating with episcopal authority, would not derive their existence solely from this authority—they would have their mandate from the whole Church, not just from the clerical section of it.
There is a need also of lay representation on diocesan councils where decisions involving lay people are taken, It will no longer do for the layman to be legislated for in his absence. Presumably such representation would be undertaken by member of lay diocesan institutes, In our post-Reformation fear of looking like Protestants we have lost much of value in Protestant churchmanship, including the idea of joint convocation. It might be added that bishops might one day have lay secretaries to maintain more sensitive communication with their layfolk. 1 he oracular style of most pastorals is out of touch with the modern mind, and sometimes fails to achieve the effect desired.
At parish level there is a crying need for lay initiative. Pope Pius XII once warmly recommended the principle of subsidiarity, by which autonomy of function should be respected, bishops not doing work that a priest could well do, and similarly for the priest and the I ayman. Yet priests nowadays are forced into general factotumship in all sorts of non-clerical activities— finance raising, school planning, building schemes, youth club running. and the inevitable bingo and pools. No man can do all these things, and a situation of "bottleneck" is caused, when the whole spiritual and cultural potential of a parish is blocked because all its, functions have to be channelled through one man.
"The trouble is," said the Bishop of Woolwich, speaking of clerical monopoly of parish functions. "that no one can do anything in that parish if they (i.e. the clergy) don't." So most parishes starve culturally and socially. Many of them are no more than Mass centres, perhaps with a few sodalities where the Specially devout are to be found.
Perhaps a youth club functions spasmodically when the already overworked curate is around. No one can even stick a notice on the Church notice hoard without "permission from Father". This is the direct result of a clericalised Church where the layman has no Status.
Only a radical reorganisation of parish life can cause it to blossom as a cultural and social centre as well as a spiritual one.
Lay Parish councils could alter the whole situation, by releasing the clergy for their true functions and by involving people in all manner of parish activities according to their talents: on the financial side budgeting for parish needs and commitments. publication of yearly accounts. fund raising; on the pastoral side helping with the old, the sick, those in domestic difficulty and the mentally ill: on the cultural side the promotion of drama, choral, and discussion groups, Bible Study groups and parish social functions.
Perhaps even House Churches, where laymen can meet to pray, to study and to help one another in the problems of life will come. These have already been operated successfully in Protestant parishee with considerable Christian revival.
In the case of the Catholic Church they could he operated in conjunction with the establishment of a lay diaconate. This is too large an issue to be discussed here, but is a development for which we may devoutly hope. "For each and every layman," said Cardinal Suenens, "has been given his own gifts and charisms. and more often than not has greater experience than the clergy in the daily life of the world," Though many would agree that reforms along these lines are needed, especially in somewhat re actionary England, very few can see how they can be brought about.
The trouble is not the setting up of machinery, but the psychological changes on both "sides" re quired before any action at all can he taken. It may well be eased by the liturgical changes which are already on the way.
Gradually the old individualism of worship—the priest, silent with
back turned, attending to his mysteries. while the silent congregation attend to their own souls—will be replaced by the sense of a whole community praising God.
Already the new forms and rubrics are on the way. and when they come they may finally create the atmosphere in which priest and layman can realise a new re lationship, based on dialogue and mutual function rather than on paternalism. For in the end all the Church is Laos, the people of God. "The laity," said Hans Rudi Weber, fol lowing Pere Congar, "are not the helpers of the clergy so that the clergy can do their job. but the clergy are helpers of the whole people of God, so that the laity can be the Church."