Priesthood and ontological change

Now, maybe we'll get a module on this! But I need a bit of help.

I am trying to get my head around the idea of the priesthood and the accompanying changes. Now, I always think of Tim Goodbody's ordination story, about how he was positively slain in the Spirit at his ordination and did not kneel before the Bishop out of duty but simply collapsed because he was so overcome. I do not doubt how powerful the work of the Holy Spirit must be at this moment. And to be honest, I am a little nervous about what might happen to me because I know how 'otherworldly' it can be and there will be quite a few people whom I'll be inviting for whom my falling over or tears will have them wanting to call doctors or console me, for they will not understand.

But I have a problem. I do not know whether I am happy thinking of what might happen as an ontological change. Perhaps I do not fully enough understand what the word 'ontological' conveys, when it is used in this sense. I have looked at its use in the sense of the ontological equality of the persons in the trinity and the ontological equality of the genders so I know that it conveys something about essence.

If, as I heard today at my ordinands' Christmas retreat, that ordination brought about an ontological change in the curate who stood at the front to tell us of his experiences, am I to understand that his essence is changed by this ceremony? Will I be ontologically changed? My essence - changed? If I deny that this can happen am I blocking the power of the Spirit - that I would never want to do? But if I think of myself as ontologically changed because I am a priest, isn't that almost like saying I am super-holy? I don't get it, aren't we all saints (Ephesians 1)? Aren't we all consecrated by God, set apart, if we are 'in Christ'? What does this kind of talk do to the idea of the 'ministry of all believers'? Didn't the reformation aim to break down some of the divides between laity and clergy and isn't a claim to clerical ontological change recreating the divide?

Can any one recommend any decent reading, Michael Ramsey aside? Can you share your views? Do you consider yourself ontologically changed and what do you mean by this?

Calvin wrote in the 1543 edition of the Institutes, “There remains the laying on of hands. I concede that it is a sacrament in true and lawful ordinations” but whilst it has no power or efficacy in itself it does have power and efficacy that “depend solely on the Spirit of God.”

...perhaps all I should really do with all this is leave it up to God, through the power of his Holy Spirit he will either ontologically change me or not.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rachel
I suggest care-full thinking here! That people in 'the ministry' may be different from those who are not is an ontological possibility, particularly with reference to gifts of the Spirit (e.g. some people with the gift of healing seem to be ontologically different to someone such as myself who does not). Also that ontologically differentiated people might be recognised through ordination is also a possibility. Thirdly, as the case with Tim Goodbody demonstrates, in the act of laying on of hands of a minister, things may happen in and through the Spirit which make a marked difference to the person being ordained.

But is there a necessary connection between 'ordination' and 'ontological difference'? That question is worth asking, I suggest, because there are fine and effective Christian ministers who have either not been ordained in any sense (i.e. no laying on of hands in commissioning their ministry) or have not been ordained in a sense which is commensurate with the episcopal tradition of the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches.

Suppose we were to say 'yes, there is a necessary connection' what would be the implications for our understanding of these other ministries?

Rachel Marszalek said...

This is my problem, Peter, it makes me uncomfortable on instinct, (!) (but I know I need to reflect rather than be instinctive) to think that priests are somehow ontologically of a type different to those who have not been through this ceremony. So do I need to inspect the importance I am attaching to this ceremony? Here I have much thinking to do - I believe that the Church acts like a parable of the coming Kingdom as much as it can, marred as it is by sin. It acts as a sign pointing to Christ. More than a sign even...I know that the Holy Spirit has conferred within it this rite and ceremony (ordination) and so I understand the solemnity of it, the commitment. A priest can administer the sacrament unlike any other minister. Do I need to think about how I feel about the sacraments too to come to some decision on this issue? Probably, yes.

I think I had better go and do some serious reading and praying. Wow - all this formational stuff isn't 'alf 'ard work! ;-)

David Ould said...

Given that there is nothing in the Scriptures to suggest either a sacerdotal priesthood in the NT church nor an ontological change of church leaders I wouldn't be worrying too much about it, nor would I allow those who insist upon such a thing to enforce their views upon you.

Rachel Marszalek said...

Is there a shift in approach to this question bound up with how Anglo-Catholic or Evangelical someone's expression of Anglicanism might be? Or am I polarising?

Andii said...

How about 'Why Priests?' by Hans Kung for a bit of RC radicalism?

I've had a go at thinking around the issue a bit more here: http://nouslife.blogspot.com/2009/12/priesthood-ontological-change.html

Peter Carrell said...

The question of ontology and priesthood should transcend evangelical v anglo-catholic and press for an agreeable answer for all Christians (including all Anglicans). The great ontological change with respect to us is when we move from not being the people of God to being the people of God, that is, in 1 Peter language, becoming a kingdom of priests (the priesthood of all believers). Within that priesthood (hiereus) some are called to the role of elders (presbyters, contracted in English = 'priests'). If this is more than a functional role it is ontologically different only in so far as it is a ministry representing the ministry of Christ; but any such thoughts are in tension with the church = body of Christ. In the body of Christ there are different parts but none are above the others in importance.

David Ould said...

The question of ontology and priesthood should transcend evangelical v anglo-catholic and press for an agreeable answer for all Christians (including all Anglicans).

Happy to agree with you Peter, hence my original reply on this thread. Specifically, I was thinking of this in an Anglican context:

VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith...

Since the Scriptures do not even speak of a distinct NT "priesthood" (apart from that of all believers) nor an ontological change associated with it, I think Rachel should regard as unAnglican an insistence by others that such a thing exists.

Howard Pilgrim said...

For my sixpence worth ...

I came to ordination 24 years ago with a theology of priesthood that was somewhat liberal-evangelical-charismatic but decidedly thin on Anglo-Catholicism. What I did know was that ordination was another step of response to a life-long call. I trusted God more than I trusted anyone's theology, including my own.

Subsequent experience of my ministry in this ordained role filled out that missing element. I moved from not caring about presiding at the eucharist to a sense of participating as presider in a divine drama that expressed the gospel at least as well as my sermons. I discovered the power in saying "I am a priest" when dealing with crises facing people far outside the Christian community. I even rediscovered the power of the 1662 communion service, against my own theological critique, through constantly using it with older parishioners and in healing services. None of this took anything from my previous experiences of ministry as a lay Christian. It was just different than I had been before, and ordained ministry was a gift and expression of grace that endured in spite of my failings.

So don't try to define what may happen to you in advance. You will be ordained to your own ministry, not someone else's. It will be different than what you have now. Wait to discover it on your own terms, and enjoy every step of the journey.

Blessings (that's priestly too, but not exclusively)
Howard Pilgrim


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