Two There Are, Your Holiness: Suggestion for the Next Pope's Agenda in Line with John Paul II's Invitation in Ut Unum Sint

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By Aloysius Pieris, S.J.

Aloysius Pieris, S.J. is the founder and director of Tulana Research Center, Colombo, Sri Lanka. An indologist and theologian, he is also an expert on Buddhist Philosophy as well as Professor of Pali Abhidhammika Literature. He has held Chairs of theology in many universities and has been a guest lecturer on many theology faculties. A prolific writer, he has published widely in many journals. His most recent book Mysticism of Service: A Short Treatise of Spirituality was published by Logos Printing, Sri Lanka, 2000.

The Principle of Duality

The request John Paul II himself had made in Ut Unum Sint that he be helped to discover a more effective way of exercising his office, has elicited from me a series of suggestions calling for reforms that are as far-reaching as they are overdue. These changes have already been ardently desired by many for a very long time and as the present pope is too feeble even to consider them, they are proposed, here, as priority items in the agenda of the next pope.

My contribution to this discussion is not so much a listing of desirable changes but a theological framework within which I envisage their implementation. My appeal is for an abandonment of the monocular vision that prevents Rome from seeing things in bold relief. Or, to change the metaphor, I plead for a strong will on the part of the next pope to think and act in a dialectical rather than in a unilateral manner in certain specific areas of the Church’s life and government.

Hence I begin by drawing his attention to the lapidary statement which his predecessor, Pope Gelasius I, made in a message sent to the Byzantine emperor Anasthasius I in the year 494. Challenging the emperor’s monistic belief in the imperial monopoly of government, and drawing his attention to the other authority that stands in dialectical relationship with his secular power, the pope declared:

Two there are, august emperor, by which the world is ruled on title of original and sovereign right, the consecrated authority of the priesthood and royal power.1

Two there are, not just one! Citing Alois Dempf’s comment (in Sacrum Imperium) that this Gelasian text could be called the "Magna Carta of the whole ‘freedom of the Church’ in medieval times," John Courtney Murray describes how the papal insistence on this "freedom of the Church" (libertas eccelsiae) constituted a powerful institutional challenge to every form of political monism that would override the transcendent sacredness of the human person (res sacra homo) and how this principle of duality was totally abandoned in the West, leaving the door open to a succession of monistic practices: the Royal Absolutism of the 17th and 18th centuries based on the theory of the divine right of kings (Widrington, Barclay, James I); the mystique of the Revolution in the 19th century creating "Jacobin Democracy" (i.e., the autonomous sovereignty of the individual reason projected socially as the republique invisible claiming to be the sovereignty of the people); the Soviet Communism of the 20th century with one party as the sole representative of one class; and, last but not least, the "democratic monism" of our own times expressed in Madison’s "republican principle" that there is only one power, the power of the people constituted by the will of the majority (Murray 1957:134-45).

Modernity or even postmodernity (according to Murray) is characterized by absolute monism which leaves no room for another independent and politically recognized institution advocating the inviolable libertas ecclesiae "sacredness of all that is human" (res sacra homo). Is the Church left out as irrelevant? Whatever happened to it? How effective has the contemporary Church been in exercising that other authority? Is the Church too much linked with the dominant system to be the champion of its victims? An indication of this crisis was well registered in the chain of events that started in September 2001: a Church confused and divided in the face of a senseless war between two fundamentalist terror-blocks, each representing a form of absolute monism. It is high time that all of us (the pope and the whole Catholic community) start to search and find where and why we, the Church, forfeited our evangelical authority, while admitting, with John Courtney Murray, that the modern world of politics has taken a wrong turn in opting to be disastrously monistic.

Perhaps, the pope must look back on the record of his predecessors, who had themselves opted for a monism of power which eroded their authority. Barely eight centuries after Gelasius, the popes themselves began to act as if they were the sole authority in the then known world, usurping the pompous imperial titleVicarius Christi and arrogating to themselves an absolute power which the Scriptures had claimed only for the risen Christ. I need not cite here the embarrassingly exaggerated claims made by the so-called canonist popes of the middle ages, Gregory VII, Innocent III, and Boniface VIII (Tillard 1983:55ff).

It took just a few centuries more for the original dialectic based on the separation of Church and state to be forced upon the Church by an altogether monistic power of the state, especially after the American and French revolutions. There seems to be no going back on this, though there are concordats which try to maintain a hold on what has practically passed into the past. The Vatican’s diplomatic missions are not always and in everything a prophetic advocate of res sacra homo, as the recent history of Chile and Argentina amply demonstrated. In these instances the papal nunciatures allowed the libertas ecclesiae to fade away into the monistic political structure which they thought they had to serve rather than challenge! Obviously this system of clerical politics lacks an authentically evangelical identity.

Perhaps the word "priesthood" in the Gelasian text quoted above is not the most appropriate expression for libertas ecclesiae, as I shall explain later. But it is the principle "Two there are [not just one]" that the popes should take as their motto. This principle must be spelt out into an agenda of reform covering several important areas of ecclesiastic life, where absolute monism has become the fixed norm. For how could we re-establish libertas ecclesiae as the dialectical counterpart of the secular governments, without first ensuring libertas in ecclesia? The dialectic we like to see between the Christian community and the secular political institutions can be thought of only after re-introducing the principle of dialectics into the inner dynamism of the Church itself.

Mentioned below are some of these areas, where the Church is caught limping on one foot because the other foot has been atrophied by centuries of disuse. I grant, however, that the Catholic Church is a colossal body and, like all heavily weighing beings, it is bound to move very slowly; but move it can, only if it keeps the dialectical tension between the two forces that carry its weight across the changing times. Hence, I like to spell out a series of two-dimensional forces that must be allowed to play freely in the next pope’s modus cogitandi, agendi et gubernandi, taking the dialectical vision of Gelasius I far beyond the latter’s limited horizon.


  • The Petrine and the Pauline Dimensions of the Roman See
  • The Sedentary and Mobile Forms of Ministry
  • Lay-priesthood and the Presbyterium in the Local Church
  • Ministerium of the Leaders and Magisterium of the Poor
  • Marriage and Celibacy
  • Male and Female in the Church Leadership
  • Primacy and Collegiality




I. The See of Peter and Paul

As the local pastor of Rome, holding the office of the potentior principalitas, the pope presides over the See of both Peter and Paul, according to the most ancient tradition (Tillard, 74ff). The mission of his office Urbi et Orbi comes from this twofold legacy. He should, therefore, be constantly cautioned that, according to the testimony of Clement of Rome (I Clem 5:1), it was "jealous zeal and envy" (i.e., intrigues of conservatives within the Roman Church) that accounted for the denunciation of Peter and Paul and, consequently, for the violent termination of their career (Cwiecowsky 1988:132). A few popes who came after them had also to suffer a similar fate!

Unfortunately, the powerful figures of Peter and Paul are still buried in the pomp and purple of what is left of that imperial power in the Roman See. In the person of Pope John XXIII, the ghosts of these two figures strove hard to emerge from the grave, but soon after the pope’s death, even these ethereal appearances vanished into the night that hides Rome’s potentior principalitas. They both must rise again in the person of the next leader of the Roman Communion in such a visibly firm manner as to withstand all internal intrigues against such a resurgence.

Peter, the weak and impetuous character, transformed into a rock and appointed leader over The Twelve by the historical Jesus, cannot exercise his ministry without Paul, the challenger, who had been anointed by the Spirit of the Risen Lord as the apostle of the frontier. Let the pope, once more become the Vicarius Petri et Pauli, in accordance with ancient tradition (Tillard, 60). Let him, we plead, renounce the title Vicarius Christi and give it back to whom it belongs by Christ’s own design: the poor, (the hungry and the thirsty, the naked and the sick, the homeless and the imprisoned) from whom it was stolen by Christian emperors. Let him give an example also to the bishops who have usurped that title since Vatican II (LG 27)!

A center sensitive to the frontier is the only guarantee of a frontier amenable to the center. All schisms that mar the image of Christ that the churches project to the non-Christian world have their roots partially in the elimination of the Pauline challenge to Peter right in the heart of Rome. In fact, in the case of Vatican embassies alluded to earlier, Peter has tried at times even to substitute for Paul in reaching the frontiers. My allusion is to the mundane way the Vatican extends its "diplomatic tentacles" to every local church on the globe, perpetuating a Roman imperial caricature of the Pauline principle.

The frontier mission of those who are raised by the Spirit of the Risen Lord to help Rome articulate its Pauline ministry (I allude mainly to the religious and lay missionaries, who form the dialectical counterpart of the episcopate in the local churches, as I shall explain more in detail under II below) are, in many instances, frustrated by "Peter’s long arm" (I mean the political wing of the Vatican) which curtails "Paul’s freedom on the periphery." It often interferes with the frontier missions of the most innovative sector of the Church. The archbishops who run these "political frontiers of the Church," (in whom the sacramental order of the archepiscopacy is secularized into the status symbol and a political rank) on the one hand, and the consecrated men and women as well as lay missionaries who work at the "evangelical frontiers of the world" on the other, could, and often do, come into serious conflict.2

By no means do I suggest that the religious and missionary societies should serve as the instrument of papal ubiquity as they did in the middle ages when many bishops had become mere stooges of local political powers. The current situation with movements like the Neo-Catechumenate or Opus Dei could serve as a contemporary illustration of that kind of papal intervention in the local churches. These lessons, from both medieval and contemporary Church practice should help us devise a new structure of ecclesiastical government in which the freedom of the frontier ministers are safeguarded in the very heart of Rome as well as in every local church. In fact, our suggestion, reiterated in the course of this discussion, is that the restoration of the Pauline ministry is possible only with the assistance and critical collaboration of the local churches which are in communion with Rome. Hence, this concern for the restoration of the frontier mission will run through my discussion of the other dyads, too.

Many critical voices were raised about the role of papal nuncios during the Second Vatican Council, but the reform that was expected then has not been forthcoming as yet. The reason is not far to seek. Any reform pertaining to the exercise of these (pseudo-Pauline?) "frontier missions" of the Vatican’s diplomatic corps is intimately bound up with, and dependent on, an even more urgent reform of the Vatican Curia which has arrogated to itself the day-to-day praxis of the pope’s Petrine office! The twofold dynamics of the potentior principalitas, namely, the dialectics between the unifying and the diversifying movements, must once more characterize the See of Rome.

This reform, however, cannot be easily introduced unless we first remedy the monism which has settled down in the very ministerial structures of the Church. And this is the next item in the list of my proposals.

II. Local-Institutional and Translocal-Charismatic Ministries

Inseparably related to the reform suggested earlier (under I), let me repeat, is the need to restore another dyad which has been reduced to a monad in the course of time, turning the Church into a one-footed being limping in the same place! I am alluding to the imprisonment of the sacramental order, the governmental jurisdiction, and the magisterial function within the institution of the episcopate-presbyterate, as well as the immobile ecclesiastical monolith that has resulted from it. We have a hierarchical structure that finds it hard to keep step with the God of history.

Incidentally, let us remind ourselves that neither of Rome’s two foundational personages (Peter nor Paul) was a "bishop" or "Presbyter"! Nor is there any clear scriptural evidence to show that any of The Twelve had installed himself as the head of a local church in the sense in which bishops claim to be today (Brown 1980:325). "The papacy is rooted in the episcopate," no doubt (Tillard, 40). De facto, yes, but should it be so de jure? It is a well accepted conviction today that the whole belief-practice cycle revolving round the unexamined slogan repeated in Church documents (including those of Vatican II) that "the bishops are the (sole?) successors of the apostles" needs to be qualified (Tillard, 93ff).

Good ecclesiology does not permit us to use the word and concept of "succession" in this context. For instance, the pope is certainly the successor of his predecessor in office but not the "successor" of Peter and Paul; he is their vicar or their vice-gerens, their locum tenens! The word "apostle," as applied to The Twelve, does not allow succession. If that were so, there would have been an uninterrupted Roman tradition of maintaining a duodecimal structure of government in keeping with Acts 1:18-26 where the vacancy left by Judas is recorded to have been filled by the election of Matthias. (The word "apostle" when applied to ministers other than The Twelve seems to have always included non-bishops and non-presbyters).

The concept of The Twelve (evoking the memory of the twelve tribes of Israel) seems to have served as a powerful symbol of the New Israel which Jesus founded as the institutional and charismatic nucleus of what would later (i.e., after the resurrection) become visible as the Church. The seminal community of The Twelve grew into an ever increasing discipleship. But the mission of the original twelve (already during their lifetime) seems to have been continued by two distinct ministries:

  • A "static" ministry of a localized community-leadership given to overseers(episcopoi), and elders (presbyteroi)
  • A "mobile" ministry of a trans-local missionary leadership exercised by messengers (apostoloi not referring to The Twelve), preachers (prophetai), and teachers (didaskaloi)3

Neither group was strictly speaking a "successor" of The Twelve, but both groups "continued the mission of" The Twelve as ministers in the nascent church! Hence we wish to reiterate the principle:

Two there are, not one structure of ministry, which should today vicariously exercise the mission of The Twelve.

In the early church it was the itinerant ministers, e.g., "apostles" such as Paul, Barnabas, and so on, who went to the frontiers and founded "churches" and handed them over to the bishops (episcopoi, i.e., overseers) or the priests, (presbyteroi, i.e., elders). Hoornaert gives us a rough idea of the general characteristics which seem to have distinguished them from the sedentary ministers such as bishops and presbyters. They have been on the whole more knowledgeable in Hebrew Scriptures and more conversant with the Gentile languages and cultures, some of them celibate, some of them earning their own means of sustenance, thus opting for a poorer lifestyle; it is they who opened the Church to the frontier situation and brought breakthroughs in tradition, as for instance, in both raising and resolving the circumcision debate; finally, this mobile model of ministry seems to have been a Christian innovation whereas the local leadership formed by the episcopate and the presbyterate was related to a traditionally Jewish institution marked by patriarchy (Hoornaert 1988:186-91). Though this last statement should not be construed to mean that early Christianity was not patriarchal, the fact remains that the mobile ministry of the nascent Church certainly included many women among missionaries and Church leaders (Schuessler-Fiorenza 1993:161ff; 295ff).

The need to maintain a dialectical tension between Christian innovativeness on the one hand, and fidelity to the legacy of Israel on the other, resulted in a parallel tension between these two ministries. Unfortunately, the innovative frontier ministries faded away into the ancient patriarchal model of local leadership! Bishops and priests began to monopolize all ministries. This is the androcratically hierarchical monism which accounts for the present crisis. Bishops alone are thought to be "successors of the Apostles"—this latter phrase being a misnomer for "perpetuators of the mission of The Twelve," of whom, however, there used to be two distinct groups, not just one!

In fact the Spirit has from time to time raised frontier ministers, sometimes breaking through the barriers placed by the "hierarchy," to bring renewal from the Church’s periphery to its institutional center. They act as a dialectical counterpart of the episcopate. A Benedict, a Francis, an Ignatius, no less than a Teresa, a Catherine, many foundresses of religious congregations and a host of other charismatic women renewed the Church in this manner. Even today it is the religious missionaries who found new Churches and hand them over to the bishops! Yet the overwhelming patriarchal power of the episcopate-presbyterate has overturned the earliest ecclesiastical arrangement by subordinating the role of the missionary ministries to the monistic jurisdiction of an all-male hierarchy.

Episcopal synods and ecumenical councils, therefore, have been lacking in built-in checks and balances ever since this monism was introduced. Even the head of the Roman Church must ponder over the historical fact that Peter (who, I repeat, was not a bishop) was the leading member of The Twelve and yet his "foundational role" vis-à-vis the primatial See was shared by Paul, who, too, was not a bishop or a presbyter but an itinerant apostle! In order to trigger off the process of re-considering the role of women in the Church’s official ministry (which was evident among the itinerant apostles, prophets, and teachers of the early church), there is a preliminary step to be taken: the sacramental and jurisdictional order must be made to re-integrate the original dialectic between patriarchal model inherited from the past and the innovatively Christian ministries of frontier men and women.

One of the consequences of accepting this duality is the obligation to give canonical recognition to the autonomous ministerial status of today’s translocal frontier workers. The insight of Bishop Vincent Nichols, made public at the Synod on Consecrated Life (perhaps reflecting the vision of the Benedictine Cardinal Basil Hume, whose auxiliary he was then) is worth quoting, here. This is how Peter Hebblethwaite reported it:

[The] Religious are not dependent on bishops to authenticate their apostolic activity, said Bishop Vincent Nichols, the auxiliary of Westminster. Citing the way in which the religious have been providing the laity with leadership in such fields as work with the deprived and prayer, he said these pastoral experiences showed that the participation of the Religious in the Church’s apostolic activity was born of their own intimate spousal love of Christ. "Their activity and leadership is not derived from episcopal mandate or the hierarchical structure of the Church, but flows form their own proper consecration by God in the power of the Holy Spirit," said Bishop Nichols.4

The theologians, who include lay men and women, and who could perhaps be seen to be filling the vacuum left by the suppressed frontier ministers such as theprophetai and didaskaloi, are also to be recognized as exercising a ministry on a par with bishops, i.e., as a dialectical counterpart of the hierarchy. Here again the law is lagging behind the theology presupposed in this early ministerial dialectics. The theologians who walk to and work in the frontiers of the faith, are committed "to think for the Church" (sentire pro ecclesia), discretely bringing into Christian thought and practice the elements of God’s Reign operating outside the boundaries of the Church.

Ecclesiastical structures, therefore, need to be reformed in the light of the ancient tradition of the dialectically bicephalous leadership-ministry. Some members of the hierarchy have adopted a rather defensive posture by resorting to such terms as "parallel church" when referring to the religious, or "parallel magisterium" with regard to the theologians. This negative attitude reflects a stubborn refusal to admit the aforementioned principle of duality: "Two there are, not one"! These monists must be reminded that, originally, it was the itinerant ministers (among them were also women co-workers) that founded churches and even appointed bishops and presbyters over them! Those who appeal to tradition in order to maintain the monopoly of power in the episcopate seem reluctant to go back in history beyond the second century! "Two there are, Your Holiness," we say once again, appealing to the most ancient tradition.

III. The Priesthood of the Laity and Leadership Ministry of the Presbyter

The dialectics between "lay priests and presbyterial leaders," must replace and eventually eliminate the present dichotomous dualism between "the laity and the priests." The word "priest" (preist, prete) is derived from the Greek presbyter which means "elder," the title of a traditional Jewish community leader. Canon 6 of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon prohibited "absolute ordination," declaring that ordaining a presbyter without a title, i.e., without assigning him a community, is simply not valid! (Tanner 1990:90). A presbyter is "ordained" (i.e., appointed or commissioned and incorporated) primarily for leadership in a local (worshipping/priestly) community that has called him to that office, rather than "consecrated" primarily for a cultic function, even though a clerical ordo had emerged by that time! (Schillebeeckx 1981:38).

The superior sacerdotal character attributed to the word "priest" (when this word is misapplied as a synonym for the presbyter) is, therefore, misleading because it undermines the one priesthood of Christ shared by the community through which the Holy Spirit summons the presbyter to preside also over the community’s worship. In fact, after Vatican II, there was a tendency to return to the older vocabulary, referring to the (ordained) ministers as "presbyters" (presbyteri) rather than "priests" (sacerdotes). Regrettably, a return to the imprecise language of the pre-conciliar past is noticed again in official Church documents.

The unexamined but widely vulgarized assumption that Jesus "ordained priests" at the last supper and the other related belief that the (ordained) priest confects the sacrament by pronouncing words of consecration over bread and wine, do recur in official documents even today but are conspicuously absent in post-Vatican II works that reflect the spirit of Vatican II (Wicks 1975:99-165). That Jesus together with his whole body, the Church (head and members), exercises his one sole priesthood in all sacraments, and most eminently, in the Eucharist, must be officially endorsed so that the presbyters may re-learn to exercise their leadership role without ritually expressing or theologically claiming a superior sacerdotal character; rather let them manifest, in an appropriate liturgical idiom, their vocation to community service, a vocation they receive from God through the mediation of that same sacerdotal community of the laos.

This means two things. First of all, the statement that Bob Kaiser attributes to Cardinal Schotte (the man who organized the last synod in 2001), namely, that the bishops are not accountable to the laity but to the pope and the pope to Christ (Kaiser 2001), reflects an ecclesiology and a Christology that cannot claim Vatican II as their source. As Schillebeeckx has pointed out, it is precisely "what came from (the community) below" that was believed in the early Church to have "come from (God/Christ) above" (Schillebeeckx, 5). All office bearers of the Church, including the pope, are accountable to the laos, the Body of Christ.

Secondly, the current liturgical practices have to be entirely reformed in conformity with the dialectical relationship between the sacerdotal character which all the faithful enjoy through their baptism and the leadership or pastoral role for which the presbyters are ordained (i.e., designated and commissioned) within that one sole sacerdotium Christi. This means that, particularly at the Eucharist, the emperor’s clothes, obsolete headgear, and wands of authority that set apart the presbyter (and bishop!) as a higher being, and also the domineering spirit with which the vestiges of a pagan cultic priesthood of Rome are perpetuated at the altar Sunday after Sunday through imposingly commanding postures and gestures of a cultic class, must yield place to a more humble mode of remembering the exaltation on the Cross and a more ardent manner of celebrating the intimacy of the Last Supper.

If Roman officials refuse to believe that such radical changes are possible without disturbing the laity, we, who do not entertain such a condescendingly clerical view of the laity, are more than willing to supply good examples of such eucharistic celebrations from Asia, where a nonclerical assembly of priestly laity led by a presbyter anticipate the domination-free Church of the Future (Pieris 2000:428-35).

Hence the frontier ministers of the frontier churches appeal to His Holiness: Two there are in the making of an ecclesial community priestly ministry of the laity that constitutes the mission of the Church and the leadership ministry of the presbyter who serves that Church pastorally without being served by it. Of course, the seminary curriculum would have to be thoroughly revised to accommodate pastors along this perspective, as the Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara had perceptively anticipated in the diocese of Recife!

IV. The Twofold Ministerium vis-à-vis the Twofold Magisterium

I have already mentioned the twofold ministerium of local pastors and frontiers workers in part II. This double ministerium has begun to call itself a "magisterium," an appellation that has to be critically evaluated in the light of the doubt raised by John Paul II himself about the unwarranted distinction between the learning Church and the teaching church (ecclesia discens et ecclesia docens) [John Paul II 1994:175]. Hence, we hear today of the pastoral magisterium of the bishops and the academic magisterium of the theologians. This distinction is found in the writings of no less a person than Thomas Aquinas (Mahoney 1987:90). He was the theologian whom, ironically, the "hierarchical magisterium" followed faithfully as its most reliable teacher for over four centuries. Ironically, too, Pius XII warned that theologians were not to act as Magistri Magisterii (Teachers of the Church’s Teaching Office) [Mahoney, 91] despite the fact that in all councils it is the theologians who work hard at formulating what comes out finally as authoritative conciliar teachings!

This notwithstanding, I wish to signal a caveat about the application of the word magisterium to either of these two ministeria. At present, the bishops as well as the theologians, barring a few exceptions, have unwittingly abdicated their magisterial authority because they have ceased to be poor like Jesus. They will have to work hard to regain their credibility as there is another twofold magisterium under which both these two groups of ministers could be re-educated in all matters pertaining the gospel of salvation. I am alluding here to the twofold magisterium of the poor.

God’s Reign (of which the Church is only a sacrament and not the total fulfillment) is attested and announced by the poor. It was a group of runaway slaves that Yahweh chose as the nucleus of the people who would teach the nations the ways of Yahweh through the witness of a contrast community built in the land that lay between the two superpowers of that time: Babylon and Egypt. It is "the meek and the lowly of the land" (Zeph 2:3; 3:12-3) that constitute the "remnants" from whom God’s community would be resurrected. It is the poor and the oppressed that God always chooses as God’s covenant partners in the project of liberation. Jesus ("God-become-poor"), constituting the new covenant, incorporates the poor into his body and thus forms the nuclear seed of the Reign of God.

Now, the "poor" we know, is a biblical shorthand for the two categories of people who are in conflict with mammon, God’s opposite number, namely, the poor in spirit of the Mathean beatitudes, and the socially poor of the Lukan beatitudes. The evangelically poor (first category) are voluntary renouncers of mammon-worship and, therefore, faithful friends and servants of God. The economically poor (second category) are involuntary victims of mammon-worshipers (i.e., of the greedy plutocrats), and, therefore, are forced to look to God as their only dependable source of liberation. Together, they are God’s chosen people, they are Christ’s Body. Since they have no power, they have authority in matters pertaining to God’s Reign because they are both bearers and announcers of God’s saving presence.

The former are the "holy ones" (hagioi) who teach the Church the mysteries of God; because they follow Jesus of history in word and deed. The latter, on the other hand, are the "lowly ones" (tapeinoi) through whom God encounters the ministerial Church insofar as they (the lowly ones) represent Christ of today. These two groups of "little ones," the microi of Matthew, namely, the followers of Jesus and the vicars of Christ, are those to whom God communicates God’s mysteries (Mt 11:25) and are the magisterium through which God teaches the nations. Let us remember that The Twelve to whom Jesus said, "they who listen to you listen to me" (Lk 10:16), received that assurance only after being summoned by him to evangelical poverty (Lk 10:1-15), an indispensable qualification for teaching with the authority of Christ. Indeed, those who practice evangelical poverty (the true disciples of Jesus) and those who are forced into economical destitution and social discrimination (true vicars of Christ) together constitute the magisterium of the poor.5

The holy ones (who follow Jesus, "in the days of his flesh" and are at home amidst the lowly ones who represent "Christ as we know him now" are the true "doctors and professors" of theology, because they serve as doctores ecclesiae on the basis of their being witnesses who publicly profess their faith, i.e., professores fidei. For it is regrettable that the dichotomy between "teaching" and "witnessing" (or professing) has produced an academic magisterium of doctores who are notprofessores, and whose teaching authority, therefore, is questioned.

Similarly the lowly ones who have not opted but have been forced to be poor due to organized greed created by the plutocracy that rules this world, are precisely those who guarantee our "salvation" ("Kingdom of God" in Mt 25 and "Eternal Life" in Luke 10) in exchange for our service to them. The (ordained) ministers who are associated with and dependent on the plutocracy which creates poverty has also lost their pastoral authority. The conclusion is self-evident: Both the frontier ministry of theologians and the local ministry of bishops cannot claim the office of a magisterium without belonging to the category of the biblically poor. Rather the bishops should be educated in the mysteries of God by the poor. Until they too become poor in spirit by becoming one with the socially poor, neither bishops nor theologians will be believed as the magisterium. In other words, the crisis of obedience that one hears discussed today in the Church is actually a crisis of credibility.

I remind the next pope of "the Church of the poor" that John XXIII envisaged in his agenda for Vatican II. It is papacy that flouts this evangelical rule of faith most visibly. No social encyclical, however cleverly worded by theologians, is taken seriously even when it speaks about justice to the poor if the place from where such exhortatory texts originate does not respect the beatitudinal requirements of Christian discipleship. The pomp and splendor of imperial power displayed in papal visits to poor countries have not impressed the followers of other religions. Jesus who rode on a donkey would not approve of this manner of travel. Let the pope travel at least in the way the president of the World Council of Churches travels; he (or she?) will then see more of the poor, and will learn more about the Church he is pastor of, and gradually regain the credibility required by his office, the authority that Peter and Paul were eminently endowed with.

Hence, the following corollary. The pope must stop issuing social encyclicals for a short period, because the Vatican and its diplomats in the political frontiers of the Church have often borne counter-witness to these noble teachings. Instead, I suggest that a new catechesis be introduced on the two dialectical foci in the Church’s salvific activity: (a) Christ’s service towards us in the administration of word and sacraments through the Church’s ministers, to be complemented and crowned by (b) Our service towards Christ in the poor and the marginalized through works of peace and social justice. This twofold focus in the Church’s saving and sanctifying action has been very inaccurately formulated, as "spiritual" and "corporal" works of mercy, respectively, the former often regarded as the constitutive dimension of salvation and sanctification, relegating the latter to the status of an "holy extra." In fact, it should be the other way around. The ultimate test of our salvation, according to the last judgment, is in our service to Christ in the poor.

The administrators of sacraments (i.e., ordained presbyters and bishops) who act as nuncios (i.e., political diplomats) in the frontiers, notwithstanding their own brand of politicized clericalism, have had no scruples in obstructing the social involvement of both ordained ministers (presbyters) and frontier missionaries (religious) on the ground that such "political" activity is incompatible with the sacramental ministry of the presbyters and spiritual mission of the religious! Here again, we repeat: Two there are, Your Holiness, that serve as means of salvation: Christ’s ministry to us through the Church’s administration of word and sacraments, and our ministry to Christ in the oppressed through our action for peace and justice!

V. Marriage and Celibacy

Two there are among options for ministers: marriage and celibacy. What the next pope should clarify for the next generation is that the difference between them is not based on any "intrinsic value" that makes one superior to the other (on the basis that Jesus chose one of them rather than the other). The value of each does not depend on the two states of life as such but on God’s initiative in calling each Christian minister to married or celibate form of "discipleship" as well as God’s initiative in sending the married and the celibate to any form of "apostleship." This twofold vocation and this twofold mission originate from God, not from the Church. If marriage and (ordained) ministry are both combined in the calling that a person receives from God, then the Church must believe that what God has joined together it has no power to put asunder. By placing celibacy as an absolute condition for entering the presbyterate, the Roman Catholic Church has acted ultra vires. Even the pope has no power over the mission or the vocation that God gives a person.

The appeal to tradition and Church discipline is a futile argument. The earliest "tradition" does not dissociate marriage from the priesthood of the laity nor from the presbyterate. As for the so-called "discipline," it is a myth exploded by the shocking scandals of child abuse today. A more Christian approach to God’s gratuitous gifts of sexuality and celibacy must replace the morbid theology of genitality that has failed in areas of both tradition and discipline.

Money also has a say where God alone must rule. The maintenance of a married clergy is financially costlier, so it is thought. But money is not the consideration; the effective service in God’s Kingdom must be given priority. Celibacy even in religious life can be a deception if it is a guarantee of financial security. Collective ownership of property may reflect a situation wherein the personal practice of poverty is made comfortable through the security provided by a collectively enjoyed wealth. The marriage between the cult of money and the cult of celibacy must be dissolved for good. Otherwise, we shall continue to produce comfortable bachelors and spinsters in place of committed celibates.

The current law of celibacy is based on encretism, an obsession with celibacy; and the obsession with celibacy is the obverse of a cryptic obsession with sex. Both sex and abstention from sex are mere creatures, and as such cannot be absolutized without turning both into cults, without violating the first basic commandment: "God alone" (evangelical obedience) and "No other God" (evangelical poverty.) Chastity without evangelical poverty and obedience is encratism. There is, here, a serious crisis in the practice of evangelical values. Let us remember that the big scandal which plunged the first College of Apostles (The Twelve) into a crisis was not the fact that most of them were married, but that the man who was put in charge of its finances exchanged Christ for money!

The time has come to confess that the so-called tradition and discipline of the Roman Church has failed. An evangelical re-appraisal of marriage and celibacy is an urgent need. They must be treated as God-given rather than Church-conferred vocations within the ministry, i.e., within both sedentary ministry and itinerant ministry. Two there are, not one!

VI. Male and Female

Firstly, I am not going to make a false start by arguing for the ordination of women as the first item on the agenda. This is the wrong end of the question. The ordination of women without first declericalizing the Church would end up in clericalizing the women, too, unless of course the women can succeed in redeeming all ministries of clericalism. As mentioned earlier (under II), let me insist that the itinerant ministry, which already has women co-workers as recognized members, must be given an autonomous ecclesiastical status along with the bishops so that such women could freely exercise their Spirit-given translocal leadership ministry across the local churches presided over by bishops. The bishops and presbyters must be educated to accept such women missionaries among today’s apostoloi, women religious among today’s prophetai, and women theologians among today’sdidaskaloi. For they rightly claim to be co-heirs with bishops and presbyters of the mission of The Twelve. Unless this paradigm shift is made, no change is possible in the androcratic monolith into which the ministerial Church has been petrified, thanks to a monism perpetuated for centuries.

Secondly, the pope should also recognize that women, as the marginalized half of humanity, are the most representative category of the "biblical poor"; the poor who, as we argued under IV, constitute the magisterium that summons the bishops and theologians to be in the learning end of the Church (ecclesia discens). Women are the first teachers of humanity, the first magisterium of every new family. Apart from being victims of gender discrimination, they also constitute half of the world’s socially poor, and certainly more than half of the religious who have vowed evangelical poverty. The Church is the poorer for preventing the greater part of its magisterium from being a decisive and decision-making factor in its ministry of governance.

Thirdly, as we argued under III, the scripturally unsubstantiated theory that Jesus ordained priests at the last supper (and that only males were present, there) is the major obstacle to the resolution of this issue. The biblical commission appointed to discuss the question of women’s ordination has clearly come out with a nihilobstat. Despite this, we seem to place our patriarchal tradition over and above the scriptures. Bibliophobia and gynephobia seem to go together among us Roman Catholics!

The fourth and last consideration is the Marian dimension of the ministerial and nonministerial Church. Here an amendment to Hans Urs von Ballthasar’s well-known and oft-quoted but patriarchally biased presentation of the Petrine-Marian tension may be helpful. It seems to have justified the existing ecclesiastical structures of government by subordinating the Marian role to that of Peter. Mary is the symbol of faith, the one who believes, while Peter is the one who ministers and exercises authority in Christ’s name. Thus, the old husband-wife relationship as applied to Christ and the Church or Yahweh and Israel could be invoked as a way of associating the divine salvific acts with the male principle.

Strange as it may seem, the Marian principle, derived from Marian dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church, seems to lead the same Church into the opposite direction. It forces upon the Roman See an embarrassing conclusion about the intimate nexus between ministry and womanhood; a conclusion which would not have been foreseen by the popes who declared Mary’s Immaculate Conception and Assumption to be articles of faith! Our argument is this: if the Marian dogmas are infallibly proclaimed articles of faith, the compatibility between womanhood and (ordained) ministry is a corollary which Roman Catholics cannot deny without denying the dogmas! This is the dilemma for a member of the Roman communion.

Hence, it is to the traditional Catholic orthodoxy, that I now appeal as the last resort. The belief that Mary always existed without original sin points to the belief that she did not live one single moment that required of her to be outside the Church, the Body of Christ. Conceived without sin (and therefore not required to be incorporated to the Church sacramentally or otherwise), she was already the Church which Jesus founded and, even more, the Church which brought forth Jesus. She was the Church ahead of the Church, ahead of Peter and the all-male Twelve.

This belief is borne also by the fact that everything that happened to the Church happened to her before the church-event took place: the coming of the Holy Spirit, the apostolic journey that prepared the proto-apostle John; above all, companionship with Jesus—not just from the Baptism of John to the Resurrection, as was required of the successor to Judas, but from infancy to the formation of the Church by the Holy Spirit. She, therefore, was the proto-ecclesia which had conceived the Word in heart and in flesh, delivered It to the world, nourished and nurtured It, and offered It on Calvary. Jesus in whom Word and prophet are one, in whom the priest is also the victim, who is both the King and the Kingdom, was contained in this embryonic church, Theotokos. This proto-church, in other words, unfolded Jesus Christ who contained all the ministries of prophecy, priesthood, and government, which the Church derived from him during and after his days of the flesh. Indeed no ministry is outside the Marian structure of the Church; no ministry, in other words, is incompatible with her womanhood. Even today, by her Assumption, she shines as the first fruit of redemption, the anticipation, in Christ, of the resurrected Church ahead of the times!

The Roman Catholic Church would contradict this obvious corollary of the Marian Dogmas if it refuses to acknowledge the Marian composition of the whole Church as constituted by the priestliness of the laity as well as by the leadership role of itinerant and sedentary ministers. If so, even papacy should not appear incompatible with womanhood to the orthodox Catholics who feel bound in faith to accept Roman Catholic Mariology!

VII. Primacy and Collegiality

It is unfortunate that this question is handled at the level of the episcopate, as if it were a matter of power-sharing between the bishop of Rome and the other bishops. The most we can expect from this narrowly conceived debate will be something parallel to the Magna Carta of 1215 where the barons of England forced out concessions of autonomy from the king at a time critically favorable to the former. Just as this convenient arrangement evolved into a charter for human rights by extending the phrase liber homo to every human person rather than solely the barons, so also, the principle of cum et sub Petro, could at most be accommodated to include the autonomy of each local church as a whole at some period of time later. But that result, however desirable, is not automatically guaranteed in this bishop-centered process of decentralization.

If, on the other hand, the exclusively episcopal character of Church leadership is abandoned in favor of an ecclesiological arrangement that accommodates both local and frontier ministries operating dialectically in particular churches (as discussed under II), and if the baptismal priesthood of the laity (from whom these leaders are chosen) is recognized as the basis of the Church as mission (as proposed under III), then the discussion between primacy and collegiality becomes a matter of defining the dialectical roles of the local church of Rome and the other local churches in terms of the Petro-Pauline character of the former. From a mere concern with the distribution of episcopal power, the debate should move towards the reciprocity of service between the churches so that the Roman See is helped to contain within itself the free play of both the centripetal force of the Petrine primacy and the centrifugal orientation of the Pauline mission (as suggested under I).

Hence, it is the other local churches that feed and maintain the Pauline orientation of the local Church of Rome. It is from the great happenings in the frontier churches that the center is educated with regard to its Pauline charisma, as Jerusalem was educated by Paul, when it was the center of nascent Christianity. Since Rome is not the universal church but a local church with a universal mission, provision must be made to counterbalance the Petrine primacy with the Pauline orientation, which the other local churches assist Rome to maintain.

This seventh and last perspectival change must be introduced into the Roman communion if its credibility is to be accepted also by the separated churches that aspire for to not communion with Rome. The autonomy, or "the right and duty of self-government" in "the churches of the East as well as the West" clearly affirmed by Vatican II (OE, 5), must be a factual reality. Ecumenism is not a movement to produce a fruit-salad Christianity out of various Church traditions, nor a Roman absorption of the individuality of such churches, but a Petrine charism of unity which blends with the Pauline principle of ecclesiastical diversity in the frontiers. This is the oecumene that the churches both within and without the Roman communion aspire for. This is the ecumenical context in which the debate about collegiality and primacy must take place.

Conclusion: A Pentecost of Universality

If these changes are introduced, there will be a great Pentecost in the entire Church, as John XXIII envisaged when he convoked the Council, for Pentecost alone is the true foundation of the Church’s universality or catholicity, as Yves Congar reminds us (1965:193). Then no bureaucrat in Rome will impose the tradition of that local church on other local churches as a condition of catholicity. There will be a new lease of freedom in the Asian frontiers of the Church. Continually challenged and magisterially instructed by the Asian Christ whose Body, for the most part, consists of the non-Christian renouncers of mammon and the non-Christian victims of mammon (the two categories of the poor through whom God reveals the mysteries of the Kingdom), these churches of the frontier, inter alia, will perhaps succeed in re-writing Dominus Jesus in the process of provoking the See of Peter to indulge in an ongoing renewal of its Pauline openness to the frontiers. Then, hopefully, Rome, and all the churches as well as men and women of good will among the adherents of other religions, will have so openly identified themselves with the poor and the oppressed of the world, as to be able to act together as that other authority which can challenge the political monism of our times.

Thank You, Your Holiness, for listening!



  1. This English translation is from Murray, art. infra .cit.
  2. The role that various nuncios played during the rise and fall of the Marcos regime in the Philippines, and during the protests organized by the religious sisters against the voice of America Complex in Sri Lanka, and during the Balasuriya Affair (also in Sri Lanka) are a few examples.
  3. Elizabeth Schuessler-Fiorenza contrasts these functions as"local/ translocal" (locinfra cit.) whereas others, for instance, Hoor-naert, speak of "stable/itinerant" (loc. infra cit.). Here, I add also the contrasting terms "static/mobile," "centrifugal/centripetal," "institutional/charismatic," "administrative/missionary," and "central/frontier."
  4. The Tablet, October 15, 1994, p.1324. Emphasis added.
  5. For a detailed discussion, see Pieris 2000a:187-231; 1999:58-61.



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