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Thursday, January 05, 2006

What Is A Bishop?

The Rt. Rev'd Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, sets out a clear summary of orthodox Anglican teaching.

The bishop, according to the ordinal, ‘has a special responsibility with his fellow bishops to maintain and further the unity of the Church.’ This maintenance of Christian unity is both within the Church in which the bishop ministers, and more widely, and in a special way, with those churches with whom the Church of England has always claimed to share the historic apostolic ministry. The bishop’s historic title of ‘Father-in-God’ reflects a tradition with ancient roots which sees the bishop as being an icon of the Father.

The Church stands within a symbolic system, which takes up what we might call ‘natural symbols’ and uses them to set forth Christian doctrine. That symbolic system, as has already been noted, is that grounded in the Old Testament. A sociological hermeneutic which dismisses the Old Testament as simply ‘patriarchal’ in a pejorative sense is far too simplistic, and must itself be subject to criticism. Dr Anthony Stevens, an evolutionary psychologist, who has brought together the insights of Jungian psychology and evolutionary disciplines such as ethology and sociobiology, draws out in his book Archetype Revisted: an updated natural history of the self (Routledge, 2002) the links between hierarchy, order and discipline and a ‘patrist’ pattern. He also warns against the consequences for society of the absent father. Bishops as Fathers-in-God are grounded in both divine revelation and archetypal symbolic patterns. As the Letter to the Hebrews notes, ‘when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well’ [Heb.7.12].

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    O God, most glorious, most bountiful, accept, we humbly beseech thee, our praises and thanksgivings for thy holy Catholic Church, the mother of us all who bear the name of Christ; for the faith which it hath conveyed in safety to our time, and the mercies by which it hath enlarged and comforted the souls of men; for the virtues which it hath established upon earth, and the holy lives by which it glorifieth both the world and thee; to whom, O blessed Trinity (+), be ascribed all honour, might, majesty and dominion, now and for ever. Amen.
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