By: Protodeacon David Kennedy
(What follows below is the first part of a paper delivered Oct 18, 2014 at the University of St. Michael's College in the University of Toronto. This international conference was titled The Vatican II Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches Orientalium ecclesiarum - Fifty Years Later.)
(Deacon Joseph Koczera)
Part A: What did the diaconate look like at the time of Vatican II?
- In the East it was both a transitional order on the way to the presbyterate and a permanent order. In the West it was definitively transitional.
- It had been this way for at least a millennium primarily due to the cursus honorum, (a training period). Why be anything other that a priest? There was a presupposition that the presbyterate was the only real order in the Church, as everything before it was preliminary. The Low Mass in the West also contributed to the demise of the diaconate for in it only the priest was necessary. This leads to the break down of liturgy as a corporate action and the Church as a corporate reality.
- The cursus honorum arose both in the East and the West in order to provide sufficient and adequate training for the clergy in the post-Constantinian Church when clerical ministry no longer made one a candidate for martyrdom but rather had the potential of a social and economic benefit. In response to this, there arose a pattern where a candidate for the presbyterate would pass sequentially through all the minor orders and the diaconate over a given period of time before ordination to the presbyterate. (For a detail study refer to John St. H. Gibaut. The Cursus Honorum: A Study of the Origins and Evolution of Sequential Ordination. New York: Peter Lang Publishing. 2000.)
- The Council of Trent had called for a renewal where the diaconate, and the minor orders would be real and permanent but nothing came of this.
- Eventually the cursus honorum gave way to seminary training.
- The Eastern Churches that entered into communion with the Church of Rome were quick to adopt the Roman seminary paradigm for the education and training of their own clergy. As a result of this, the diaconate and minor orders were thought of in the Eastern Catholic Churches as no more than stepping-stones to the real goal – the holy priesthood.
- The Codex iuris canonici 971 § 1,(1917) did not permit anyone to remain in minor orders or the diaconate. Everyone was to proceed to the presbyterate.
- In the Eastern Cath. Churches there was a slight difference for Cleri sanctitati (1957) did not require clerics to advance to the priesthood but permitted them to remain in the diaconate and minor orders.
- We know the picture in the West and to a large extent in the Eastern Catholic Churches: the diaconate was transitional and as one can easily image it is next to impossible to develop a real and living paradigm of diaconal ministry where the goal of all clerical vocation is the priesthood. The diaconate was a canonical or legal requirement that lead to the real order, the presbyterate.
- Robert Clément, S.J. writing in 1966 shortly after the promulgation of Orientalium ecclesiarum addresses the situation of the diaconate in both the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. (Cf. “Situation Présente du Diaconate en Orient” in P. Winninger et Y. Congar. Le Diacre Dans L’Eglise et Le Monde D’aujourd’hui. Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf. 1966. 63-70.) He states that among the Chaldean Catholics there are 5 deacons and 3 for the Syrians. He mentions that among the Maronites deacons can be found in the monasteries but he gives no numbers.
- In my own Church, the Ukrainian Catholic, the paradigm following the Union of Brest became the Roman one. In the first half of the 20th c. Metropolitan Andrew Sheptysky and his brother, Blessed Clement implemented the diaconate as a permanent order among the Studite monastics, but again there were only a few. There were also a few ordained for St. George’s Cathedral in Lviv. During the period of persecutions following Soviet suppression of the Ukrainian Greco Catholic Church, the diaconate in practice was again reduced to a transitional order, sometimes for no more than a day.
- Clément mentions that in the Orthodox Church in Russia in 1914 there were 15,210 deacons, 50,150 presbyters and 149 bishops for 100 million faithful in 67 dioceses. Yet in the Orthodox Church in Greece, Clément tells us that it is rare to find deacons who will serve permanently in that order. There, deacons are awaiting ordination to the presbyterate or are found on the staff of bishops where they frequently go on to the episcopate itself; sometimes only a day or two after presbyteral ordination. We can easily see that among the Eastern Catholics and among some of the Orthodox that the diaconate as a permanent order “had fallen into disuse”.
- Why was this the case? There seems to be a number of reasons.
- When there is no remuneration for deacons as there is for presbyters, the diaconate as a permanent rank declines. The Russian Orthodox Church paid the deacons not only for their liturgical services but also had them employed as teachers of religion in the schools. In the Eastern Catholic Churches as in the Orthodox Church in Greece it was often difficult to find funding for priests let alone deacons.
- The Eastern Catholic Churches adopted an educational paradigm for their clergy that was closely modeled after the Post-Tridentine practice as found in the Latin West. In this case the minor orders and the diaconate were conceived of and practiced solely as transitional steps to the real goal of the presbyterate.
- Why be a deacon if you can be a priest? This mindset develops from number 2 above. The minor orders and the diaconate are seen as only canonical requirements for ordination to the presbyterate, and the canonical practice is no longer reflecting a period when the cursus honorum meant a real training period of many years in each of the minor orders and the diaconate. For example a man was not to be ordained a deacon before 25 years of age and not a presbyter before 30 years of age. Therefore, he would have at least 5 years of real diaconal service and training before ordination to the presbyterate. The cursus honorum existed as a functional training ground for clergy before the seminary system that followed the Council of Trent. But following Trent the training was shifted to the seminary and the cursus honorum lost its original raison d’être. This being the case, a man often spent very little time in the diaconate or any of the minor orders. The requirements became little more than legalistic and had little to do with real ecclesial life.
- Reason number 3 above leads to a mindset of “he who can do more can do less”. Thus, the priest can do everything a deacon can do and more. When there is no deacon present at liturgical services, the diaconal functions are assumed either by the priest or lay servers, or lay readers. At more solemn services among the Eastern Catholics it was not uncommon for a priest to vest as a deacon and serve as such. This was the common practice in the Latin West also, for there is an understanding in Western theology that the priest is still a deacon after ordination to the presbyterate. (This matter is still to be addressed fully in Catholic theology and liturgical practice. This is not only a sacramental matter but also one that goes to the heart of the apostolic ministerial practice, pneumatology and ecclesiology.)
- Thus, we can see that a number of diverse factors and historical contingencies led to the reality of the diaconate as a permanent order in the Eastern Catholic Churches as well as some of the Orthodox Churches being little more than a vestige. What was established by the Apostles as part of the apostolic ministry had atrophied in most local Churches into little more than a transitional period for the purpose of fulfilling a canonical obligation.
- The liturgical tradition as exemplified in the texts bore witness to an active diaconate but the reality was something quite different. This certainly raises serious questions about the self-consciousness of the Church. It seems that the bishops of Vatican II were acutely aware of the need to address this matter and as we will see their reasons were rooted in the patristic witness to the apostolic Church.
(Part 2 will be posted soon.)