This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

Attacks on the teaching office based on moral grounds

What was said immediately above provides an answer to one of the typical attacks made by Protestantism against the Catholic priesthood, or against sacred offices in general, on the basis of moral deficiencies in the individuals entrusted with these kinds of positions. Moral failure, however frequent or severe, does not change the nature of the function being performed. The reason for this is that the function is divine, and there is always a disproportion between the ‘humanity’ of the instrument being utilized and the transcendent nature of the function itself: if we demand that abilities and moral perfection of the person are proportionate to the function of the office, then no one could ever hold the office, and so it would immediately lose its efficacy. Thus, moral weakness is secondary, due to the weakness of the actor, and not essential to the validity of the office.

In fact, we can say that the morally weak man who exercises a divine function can in some respects do it even more effectively because his weakness as instrument serves to illustrate all the more powerfully the transcendence of the function. At any rate, the function always remains what it is, as ‘instituted by God,’ in a similar way as it is said that all political power, just or unjust, comes from God and that abuse of political power does not nullify the legitimacy of power in itself.

The legitimacy of the priesthood does not stand or fall on the basis of the conduct or qualifications of those individuals who participate in it and exercise its functions. The upaguru or ‘occasional teacher’ is not, of course, holding a priestly ‘office,’ and this should be acknowledged, but the same principle applies when it comes time to act in this role, and here as elsewhere moral qualifications do not factor in.

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