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From the July/August, 2005 issue of Touchstone


Pastors Courageous by Patrick Henry Reardon

Pastors Courageous

The Necessity of a Military Ministry

In early May the Emmanuel Foundation announced that this year’s recipients of its prestigious Kairos Journal Award are four “Anglican Primates who have boldly and consistently stood for historic orthodoxy” in the face of what it calls the “theological decline in the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada.” The four bishop recipients of the award this year are Peter Jasper Akinola of Nigeria, Datuk Yong Ping Chung of South East Asia, Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda, and Gregory James Venables of the Southern Cone of South America. The presentation will be made in New York on September 8, and the attendance of at least two Touchstone editors at that event will testify to our own journal’s deep respect for these four recipients.

The announcement of the award declares that it “is given to individuals who demonstrate exemplary fidelity to the authority of Scripture and exceptional pastoral courage in their efforts to restore the prophetic voice of the Church as the moral conscience of the culture.” In addition to pastoral courage and biblical fidelity, the Kairos Journal Award also recognizes in its recipients the grace of historical discernment.

Thus, the announcement goes on, “Honorees are further chosen based on their discernment of, and response to, what the Journal calls the ‘kairos moment,’ a moment of cultural crisis demanding timely action from the Church.”

Discerning Courage

A traditional insight is revealed in this recognition that both historical discernment and fidelity to Holy Scripture are integrally related to the courage required in the pastoral ministry. It indicates, correctly, that courage is not a self-sufficient virtue.

It is not self-glorifying, nor does it revel in its own sense of power. It properly derives its worth, rather, from what it serves, which is beyond and above itself, something adhered to in fidelity and protected with discernment. For this reason the Emmanuel Foundation properly designates, along with courage, the associated qualities of fidelity and discernment.

Understanding that association, St. Ambrose warned the clergy of the late fourth century in De Officiis: “Although courage ( fortitudo) is a virtue higher than the others, it is not such as can stand alone, because it never depends solely on itself.” That is to say, it is not the arduousness of courage that renders it honorable, but the superior good to which it ministers. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the Summa Theologica that “the reckoning of the virtue consists rather in what is good than in what is difficult” ( ratio virtutis consistit magis in bono quam in difficili).

In the case of the four bishops under consideration, the bonum or “good” that renders their courage truly valuable is the Church’s pastoral office, ministering in fidelity and discernment under the authority of Holy Scripture. This is why St. Ambrose, instructing the clergy of his own day in De Officiis, devoted so much attention to courage as a necessary requisite for the pastoral ministry.

Ambrose, born and raised during the stormy decades between the councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, took it as obvious that there could be no adequate Christian pastoring without courage. Inspired by the recent examples of Athanasius and Basil, Ambrose himself consistently illustrated this virtue, perhaps most notably when he resisted the Arianism of the Empress Justina at Milan and called on the Emperor Theodosius to do public penance for the massacre at Thessaloniki.

Ourselves prompted by such models, we wonder if it is not about time to introduce more explicit lessons on courage in our modern seminary courses. We are not joking. This suggestion is not made as an exercise in frivolity.

If today we are so impressed by the courage of these four Anglican bishops, none of whom, in fact, face anything near the level of threat directed at Ambrose, it is surely because the religious culture of our times has in large measure stopped thinking of the pastoral office in terms of simple, unassuming fortitude. Our modern seminaries, unless they are engaged in recent improvements of which we are unaware, make no serious effort to inculcate courage.

To be sure, today’s seminaries do teach concern and sensitivity, kindness and compassion, sympathy and the art of listening. Most seminaries now, in fact, require seminarians to gain a certain number of credit hours working in hospitals and clinics, gaining important skills that will later prove indispensable to their work as pastors.

We do not intend here to denigrate any such efforts. What does not seem obvious to us, however, is that modern seminaries, in the main, direct sufficient attention to the virtue of courage with its concomitant qualities of fidelity and discernment.

Men in Office

In this respect, it is worth remembering that our English word “courage” translates what the ancient Greeks called andreia, literally “manliness,” and we insist, with Ambrose and other church fathers, that elementary manliness is an essential, irreplaceable requirement of the pastoral office. It is not sufficient to contend (as we have from time to time mentioned) that ordained Christian pastors must be males. It is also imperative that care be taken that ordinands be manly persons, loyal and discerning men armed with the disposition and the cultivated habit of virile, red-blooded fortitude.

If these remarks seem to strike too martial a tone, it is perhaps because we no longer sense the significance of military metaphors respecting the ordained ministry. Some time has elapsed, apparently, since the arts of pastoring have been perceived as methods of combat (as in 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7). Long gone, it appears, are the days when a Christian pastor could refer to his associates as “fellow soldiers” (Phil. 2:25; Philemon 2) and describe the Christian ministry in terms of doing battle (2 Tim. 2:4).

As models for the Christian pastor, St. Ambrose did not hesitate to cite the manly examples of David standing up to Goliath and Daniel facing the lions. He cited the exhortation that Job received to “gird up your loins like a man” (citing Job 40:2 LXX), going on to describe the pastor as “Christ’s warrior,” and speaking of the pastoral ministry as “fighting for God.” We sincerely doubt that such ideas are taught in our seminaries any more. If any of our readers who have been to seminary can think of ways in which these lessons were conveyed in their seminary education, we would be delighted to stand corrected on the point.

The courage we are talking about may be raw, but it is not reckless, nor is it cultivated as an end in itself. It is not a self-glorifying attitude, nor a temper of soul that revels in its own sense of strength and sufficiency (what 1 John 2:16 calls alazoneia tou biou—“pride of life”). Pastoral courage is certainly not what today is known as machismo.

Guided by fidelity and discernment, rather, this courage is put to the service of something higher, nobler, and vastly more important: the pastoral ministry to the gospel in the Church. We regard this godly courage as essential if the bishop or pastor is to speak with the authority inherent in his ministry.

Without this basic level of biblical manliness, it is not easy to see how a pastor can fulfill even the minimum oversight contained in the ancient admonition, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:2–5).

Clerical Cowards

If such an emphasis on basic andreia in the ministry were already integrated into the normal education of Christian pastors, it is reasonable to doubt that we would have seen, during this past year, so many examples of clerical irresponsibility, such as the several public scandals involving the Orthodox clergy (including bishops, alas) in Greece, the continued cover-up of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic hierarchs in this country, the wimpish complicity of some Lutheran bishops with an aggressive homosexual agenda in the ELCA, the continued toleration of theological heterodoxy in various of our church-affiliated universities and colleges, and that phenomenon which the Emmanuel Foundation calls the “theological decline in the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada.” (Familiar with the polite lexicon of the foundation, we take the liberty of understanding “theological decline” here as “advanced state of rotting heresy and crumbling moral decay.”)

Others share our concern for pastoral courage. Indeed, solicitude of this sort may be already on the ascendant. Even as we go to press, a little factory is producing pin-on buttons that a fan of Touchstone, a priest in Ohio, will distribute to the delegates attending the triennial convention of the Orthodox Church in America later this month in Toronto. The message on the buttons is very simple and exactly addresses our point: “Deuteronomy 23:1.” We hope for a favorable reaction.

Meanwhile, we congratulate these four Anglican bishops drawn from Asia, Africa, and South America, about to be honored by the Emmanuel Foundation. Justly goaded by their example, we suggest that a fine quotation from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics may henceforth serve as the opening line of all seminary handbooks: kai proton peri andreias—“Let us first deal with courage.”

—Patrick Henry Reardon, for the editors

Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of Christ in the Psalms, Christ in His Saints, and The Trial of Job (all from Conciliar Press). He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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“Pastors Courageous” first appeared in the July/August 2005 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue. Support the work of Touchstone by subscribing today!

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