Saturday, January 7, 2012

Blogging the GOEs, Question 6: GOEs Go Fiddler on the Roof

Well, the GOEs are finally over. Crusty Old Dean is getting caught up on blogging the questions, throwing up some blog posts over the next few days. In today's installment, the GOE makes like Tevye's Fiddler on the Roof and throws down with "Tradition!" For once, COD will not put the question at the end.

But before we get the question, the context of the examination always helps: the GOEs are not papers. They are questions which ask for responses, designed to be integrative, and for people who are presumably in the ordination track. So in a Scriptural question they won't be asking for detailed exegesis (unlike the ordination exams in some other Christian traditions, for instance, which do ask for a level of demonstrable exegetical skill). The GOE is intended to be integrative in nature and be for people preparing by and large for pastoral ministry. So, Scriptural questions needs to come from an angle different from, say, "Compare the use of the horatory subjunctive in the Pauline and deutero-Pauline epistles." The Scripture questions usually reference fairly well-known Scriptural passages and ask for students to make broad links between them.

So, on to the question:

Set 6: The Holy Scriptures

LIMITED RESOURCES: A printed one-volume annotated Bible and a printed 1979 Book of Common Prayer but no electronic or Internet resources.

Throughout history, communities have maintained their identity by passing on their traditions (stories, laws, songs, prayers, etc.) from one generation to the next. One of the tasks of a priest specified in the ordination rite is to be a teacher, and educator who passes on and interprets the tradition. The following texts are from the propers for education in the BCP (931):

Deuteronomy 6: 4-9, 20-25
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

1. In no more than 750 words, taking into account the historical, literary, and theological background of each passage, briefly identify the important highlights of the tradition - the community's "story" - to be passed on to the following generations of the community to which the passage is addressed. (NOTE: Your answer should demonstrate an understanding of the historical, literary, and theological contexts of these passages. It should not include a detailed exegesis of the texts.)

2. In no more than 750 words, briefly summarize at least two biblical traditions that you consider most important to be passed on to the next generation in The Episcopal Church, drawing on the material you have presented in Part I and any other relevant biblical texts. Provide a rationale for each of your choices, including an example of a situation in the contemporary church where this tradition would be especially pertinent and useful.

OK, some interesting choices here -- for one, picking up the language in the Examination in the ordination rites, where one of the vocations of the priest is to be a "teacher", though there is an interesting gloss here, defining teacher as an "educator who passes on and interprets the tradition." COD has some issues with this, and not just because he is a priest who is also a teacher in his day job. He wonder if they aren't protesting too much in this linking of priest to teacher to interpreter progression -- why not just leave it at teacher instead of forcing the question to be linked to the understanding of tradition? Besides, linking "teacher" with "interpret" complicates things. On the one hand, pairing the call for the priest to be teacher with the propers for Education (when was the last time any clergy colleagues used those? anyone? Bueller? Something -doo economics?) is a necessary move in this context. Because, even though the ordination rite speaks of the priest as teacher, there is very little else in the ordination rite to back this up - so fleshing out the priest as "educator" necessitates stepping out of the ordination rite to look for some Scriptural readings.

On the other hand (COD hoping he does not run out of hands like Tevye did) one of the few elements of the ordination rite which can be seen as a reflection of this interpretive function of the ordained ministry is the reading from Ecclesiasticus (again -- anyone ever heard this at an ordination??) which speaks of the scribe as someone who reflects on Scripture and interprets it to the world -- "He will show the wisdom of what he has learned." However, this is part of the ordination of a deacon, not a priest, because of the differing ways deacons and priests are to reflect on Scripture. The Ecclesiasticus reading reflects the particularly diaconal call to "study the Holy Scriptures, to seek nourishment from them, and to model your life upon them" as part of the deacon's main charge to "make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example, to those among whom you live, and work, and worship. You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world." Deacons later promise to "be faithful in prayer, and in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures."

Priests, on the other hand, are to preach the Scriptures. They are to be "be diligent in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures, and in seeking the knowledge of such things as may make you a stronger and more able minister of Christ" The Scriptures are for priests something they proclaim, something they use to make them better and more able ministers. Deacons draw strength from reflecting on the Scriptures as part of their call to interpret the church to the world, hence the Ecclesiasticus reading. Almost none of the other readings at ordination rites reference a teaching or interpretive charism.

Thus if you want to link the teaching function of the priest to the carrying on of tradition in the church, you have to look elsewhere than the ordination rites -- so we get the propers for Education. Nothing too out of the ordinary here, two better known Scriptural passages. The first is the "shema yisrael": hear, o Israel, the Lord your God is one. Something almost any half-observant Jewish person has learned, something Crusty Old Dean learned to memorize in Hebrew class. From 2 Timothy, continuing to teach what we have learned, especially when people get those itching ears. All well and good, given the premise of the question -- if it is going to be about how communities pass along traditions, these are the two passages to pick. Exodus 12 also comes to mind, but that's perhaps slightly more obvious than these two. Section 1 looks fairly straightforward; students aren't being asked to exegete but basically show they have read these passages before and didn't sleep through all of their introduction to OT and NT classes. If you can't answer Part 1, you shouldn't have gotten this far.

Section 2 is where it gets funky, and where some of the categories here become a little unwieldy. Having placed tradition and passing on of tradition at the center of this question -- indeed, it has defined as being central to the role of priest! -- it never really has defined what it means by a tradition. Tradition is a complex word. There are big traditions (the Eucharist) and small traditions (bowing at the name of Jesus) which both have biblical mandate. There are good traditions (caring for the poor and widow) and bad traditions (cursing people who wear clothing from two different fabrics; blaming the Jews for Jesus' death) both of which have biblical mandate.

Section 2 asks for two biblical traditions to be passed on to the next generation. COD would be really fascinated to hear what some of those biblical traditions GOE takers cited. Being Episcopalians, one could always go liturgical: the Eucharist? What about social justice, the command to care for the least, something pervades the OT and NT? So many rich ways to go, and to be required only to pick two (hopefully not in a Three Stooges like fashion).

Again, a good question. Crusty Old Dean is started to get worried there is not a WTF question on this GOE.

My only real concern here is the way in which priesthood is rather clumsily linked to the tradition premise of the question, by making the priest an interpreter of tradition. Linking teacher with someone who interprets muddies the water; you could make a very strong case that it is just as proper, if not more proper, for deacons to answer this question (COD is NOT going into the transitional diaconate morass right now). This is part of much larger issues about the teaching charism and the ordained ministry, at least for presbyters, deacons, and lay persons, being more clearly defined in its relation to the episcopate since the 2nd century or so. The first understanding of apostolic succession and the episcopacy had nothing whatsoever to do with who ordained who: it was based on teaching authority. Irenaeus, for instance, never trumpets the fact he was ordained by Polycarp who was ordained by John who was ordained by Jesus. He says he was taught by Polycarp who was taught by John who was taught by Jesus. Ever since sacramental presidency became normative for the presbyterate its teaching function has seen an erosion; it was not uncommon in the 3rd century to ordain persons as presbyter to exercise primarily a teaching function (Origen being one of the great examples). See Chapter 1 of Crusty Old Dean's book "The Past is Prologue: the Revolution of Nicene Historiography" to get a fuller treatment of this.

COD thinks the teaching function of the priesthood is about the passing on of tradition, but not just that; it is about making sense of that tradition in a variety of different realities and contexts (all packed into "interprets" in the question). And it is part of the priestly charism that is often woefully ignored, as the ordination rite itself demonstrates, with hardly any reference in the rite as to how that teaching function is to be understood -- and that the interpretative function of the deacon is more clearly defined and linked with Scripture, albeit a Scriptural reading hardly ever used in diaconal ordinations.

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