Tuesday, June 28, 2016
The Church of Piety and the Church of Power
The Roman Catholic Church is a complex lady. She is so because she is chock full of human beings; human beings full of grace, human beings full of foibles. Those human beings can grow lax and selfish and then grow selfless and magnanimous. Our history as a Church reflects these truths. Our governance reminds us that such a large entity moves, by nature, very cautiously and slowly. In her governance, the Church Militant (the part of the Body of Christ on earth) has two groups who are in constant and necessary sides of the spectrum: the church of power and the church of piety.
I borrow these terms from author and historian, Rodney Clark, from his recently published book, Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History. In Chapter 9, the chapter on the canard that the Church prefers authoritarian civil governments, he uses these terms to describe the two churches: The Church of Power and the Church of Piety. "The Church of power was the main body of the Church that evolved in response to the immense status and wealth bestowed on the clergy by Constantine." In short, they're the administrators. The leadership of the church mainly falls into this task. They are given the duty of the upkeep of the infrastructure necessary to do the work of the Church. Someone has to maintain the parishes, dioceses, educational systems, and the myriad of other ministries the Church has. But on their own, they can turn the church into a business.
The Church of Piety, according to Dr. Stark, is what 'pressed for virtue over worldliness and constantly attempted to reform the Church of Power...the task of conversion...of evangelization" was left to the Church of Piety. If the Church of Power upkeeps the infrastructure, the Church of Piety gives the reason for it to exist. If the Church of Power can be likened to the body of the Church, so the Church of Piety is its soul. Much like our own bodies and souls, there can be as usually is tension between them.
Before I go any further, it is worth admitting I really am more of the Church of Piety even though by virtue of my role as pastor, there are times I have to be in the Church of Power. To tip my hand a bit, I see both parts of the Church Militant as necessary, but I believe the Church of Power is to serve the Church of Piety. I realize there must be administration, but that the administration serves the ends of the mission of the Church. Even in my own administrating of my parish, I believe that the budget should not determine the mission, but that the mission should determine the budget. Well maintained empty buildings are of little use when not engaged in the mission of the Church. Balanced budget matter little when the mission of the Church goes unfulfilled in the local area. However, the mission does require infrastructure.
When one dominates to the exclusion of the other, it rarely works out well. When the church of power dominates it can become a church fixated on the things of man and not the things of God. It becomes corrupt. It is the equivalent of a zombie, a soulless body still moving but actively rotting as it does. When the church of piety dominates to the exclusion of the church of power, it loses its infrastructure and and become muddled and even fall into heresy. It can be the equivalent of a ghost, a cognizant entity with no physical structure in which to operate.
When the two parts of the Church Militant walk hand in hand, both the work of the Church and the means of this work stride along. One cannot lose sight that the other is needed. In fact, both churches should reside in the same person when it comes to leadership within the Church. Truth be told, the Church has survived without the church of power, but her ability to get about the mission of the Church was hampered in the process. Being more in the Church of Piety than Power, I can and do get frustrated with the ambition, politics, and even lack of vision of the Church of Power. They, in turn, can see me as a bit of a loose cannon, a curmudgeon, and as having my head in the clouds. Fair enough...just as long as we never lose sight as to why the Church exist: to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the conversion and salvation of souls.