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12 November 2012

Edward Hahnenberg's Ministries: A Critical Review

Part I (of II):


Edward Hahnenberg’s Ministries: A Relational Approach investigates a variety of theological and pastoral issues connected with both ministry and ministers themselves.  His work supposes a “stalled” theological/pastoral conversation.[1]  Hahnenberg articulates a cohesive ministerial structure through which the Church will receive more effective ministry and ministers themselves will receive the dignity they deserve. From the very beginning, Hahnenberg attempts to avoid a diatomic, dividing-line model that separates lay and ordained ministry in both type and value (10).  His attempts, as we shall see, create an overall positive trajectory, but still require modification.
Many topics raised by Hahnenberg are worthy of discussion, but three in particular bear heavily upon the topic at hand.  Hahnenberg imaginatively reorders the categories of ministry.  He constructs a ministerial model based upon a series of concentric circles whereby all ministers are recognized as participating in the life of the community in vital, yet distinct ways (11).  He embeds this model within a Congarian reading of Vatican II.  He thus suggests the Council “recalled the unity and equality of everyone in the church and claimed … Christian service lies in baptism” (11). Hahnenberg then attempts to develop an actual theology of ministry through a recovery of Trinitarian theology (61, 76).  He focuses upon the role of charism in ministry as well as what he believes to be the fundamental relational grounding of the Trinity..  In this way, Hahnenberg draws upon an argument of Richard Galliardetz, through which he suggests that ministerial roles rely upon a system of ecclesial repositioning (130).  Finally, Hahnenberg endorses a deeper appreciation for lay ecclesial ministers and suggests that efforts be made to liturgically recognize their efforts through a series of commissioning rituals (204); in light of this, he attempts to maintain at once the vital importance of ordination throughout the history of the Church and into the present day, while also thinking creatively about what future changes and/or additions may be made to this system in order to better recognize the ministry performed by lay ecclesial ministers.  .     
Hahnenberg recognizes the potential dangers of a functional/ontological divide in any ministerial theology.  He responds with a fresh perspective, grounded in relationships rather than the language of sacramental character usually reserved for ordination (54).  This position allows him to make progress upon some of the difficult questions he asks regarding modeling, relationality and repositioning.  While he cautions against viewing the ordained as mere dispensers of the sacraments, he does not always do the same for lay ecclesial ministers (96).  This problem is subtle but important: by placing ministerial relationships at the center of his models, Hahnenberg focuses too heavily upon what lay ministers do.  This is, of course, an understandable overcorrection in an age when lay ministers are all too often treated as less important than the ordained.   Hahnenberg himself appears to make a correction of this in light of Co-Workers in the Vineyard, when he writes compellingly about the vocation to ministry in a 2006 article in America (Hahnenberg, “When the Church Calls”). 
            Hahnenberg reacts against what he considers to be an insufficient, and ultimately harmful model of ministry that separates the activities and by extension, the dignity, of lay and ordained ministers.  Hahnenberg refuses to create a zero-sum game in which an increase in ministerial responsibility of the laity derogates from the role of the ordained (18).  He remains unconvinced by such documents as Christfideles Laici in which the laity is provided with positions “in the world” while the clergy maintain positions of authority within the Church itself (18).  Fearful that such a construction creations a situation in which the hierarchical (ordained) priesthood stands fundamentally apart from the community  (9), Hahnenberg recalls that this type of modeling presented a church fearful of engagement with the world (15).  Hahnenberg responds by recalling the theology expressed in Gaudium et Spes, exploring specifically n.33 in which the laity “share in the church’s saving mission.” Hahnenberg concludes that Vatican II avoided a bifurcation of faith from the secular world.  Vatican II reinforced (or perhaps recovered) the idea that the Church existed for the benefit of the world itself and reinforced the responsibility of its own members to witness to this (e.g. Gaudium et Spes, 92).  Hahnenberg views the community itself as the context for ministry.  In other words, proper ministerial grounding looks as both leaven for the world (cf. Mt. 13:33) and in service to the Christian community.  A ministry configured to service and not authority realizes that the laity may live in the secular world while serving the church in a meaningful, irreplaceable way (37).  Moreover, both lay and ordained ministers are called to realize the true telos of Jesus’ ministerial life (and thus their own): service to the reign of God (41).  Because of these realities, Hahnenberg searches for a model of ministry that fulfills Gaudium et Spes’ call to be bearing of a message of salvation for all (GS, 1). 
            Hahnenberg’s ministerial theology bases itself within a model of concentric circles, wherein the further into the circle traveled, the heavier the pastoral responsibilities (204).  In doing so, the ordained, specifically priests and bishops, maintain their unique pastoral roles with some modification.  The ordained are seen as serving in persona Christi capitis, as opposed to solely in persona Christi, recovering a phrase found in Presbyterorum Ordinis (51).  This shift recognizes the priest not only as a leader, but also as exercising a fundamentally unitive ministerial role (83). As a result, the duties of the priest are not portrayed as the only meaningful sacred duties performed within an ecclesial setting.  Lay ministers too share in the “public ministries in and on behalf of the Church” (84).  While this model reserves leadership of the community to the ordained, it presses an earlier argument in which ministerial actions and the Church’s missionary telos are not reserved solely for the ordained.  More sternly put: “The linear division between priest and lay person should be replaced by a circular model … within which a diversity of ministries exists to serve the community and its mission in the world” (36, italics his).  Thus, Hahnenberg proposes a model in which the ecclesial community receives priority over individual privilege and prestige.
            Hahnenberg’s shift in ministerial modeling helps to envision improvements in relationships of the lay and ordained to their communities and each other.  Yet, it must be asked whether his attempts too greatly “flatten” ministerial positions.  Hahnenberg expects ordained ministers to continue to serve in the role of “Christ the Head.”  However, his shifts open the model itself to claims of functionalism, not only for the ordained, but also for the lay ecclesial minister.   His position inadequately recognizes on one hand the specificity of the ordained vocation and on the other the relative fluidity of lay ministers.  This appears to be an overcorrection of sorts: along with O’Meara, Hahnenberg fears a theological insistence on the secularity of the un-ordained baptized (O’Meara, 61 in Fox).  His concentric model presents as an improved theology of ministry; at the same time, it backs away from acknowledging the differences between the ordained and lay ministers.  A potential solution – and my own position – suggests that there must be, in addition to a change in models – a recovery of the ministry and theology of priesthood itself.  Just as Kevin Seasoltz suggests that religious orders must revisit their constitutive parts in order to reclaim their genuine identity, so too should ordained and lay ministers (Seasoltz, 250 in Wood).



[1] All future references to Ministries by Hahenberg will be cited parathetically by page number.

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