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12 November 2012

Edward Hahnenberg's Ministries: A Critical Review (Part II)

Read Part I here.

Part II:


A second improvement of Hahnenberg makes is his use of the Trinity as a model for ministry.  He criticizes what he considers a problematic Christology: a monistic interpretation of the ordained minister which identifies him (!) as the preferred minister in all situations.  Of course, Hahnenberg does not oppose a robust Christology; nevertheless he recognizes that a fruitful ministerial theology is fundamentally grounded in the Trinity.  To achieve this, he begins with a recovery of the term charism which he defines as a particular gift for the benefit of the entire community given by the Holy Spirit.  He thus finds Lumen Gentium’s treatment of the Spirit in the Church especially helpful (66).  Hahnenberg allows that the Council did not fully develop a theology of the laity, yet sees in its documents the groundwork for such a theology.  Such a “pneumatological ecclesiology” provides a lens through which to understand this change (70).  This ecclesiology does not take anything away from the hierarchy’s role as such: ecclesiastical office is charismatic in character, but this charistmatic element is not reserved to the official ministries” (70).
            In reference to Hahnenberg’s Trinitarian turn, Kathleen Cahalan notes that Hahnenberg “provides a relational understanding of ministry rather than an individual one” (Cahalan, 379 in Worship).  This communal sense is mirrored in the Trinity itself.  Since “the action of Christ and Christ’s Spirit are inseparable,” a move to aligning the ordained with Christ and lay ministers with the Spirit is untenable (78).  The Trinity cannot operate apart from itself; neither then, can heralds of the Trinity.  Instead, all ministers must be grounded in both Christ and the Spirit (79).  Hahnenberg aptly states that “Christians are called by Christ and strengthened by charism to serve the reign of God” (79). Just as the relationship of Christ and the Spirit are intertwined so as to be virtually attached, so should it be for the Church. Hahnenberg focuses upon this particular notion as a way of providing a model for the positions of a variety of ministers (84). He suggests a language of relational ontology in which the true difference between a person who ministers in a specified role and one who does not has to do primarily with their relationships in and to the community (95).  In this formula, further weight is given to relationships because “we become our own true selves in living in right relationship to others” (93).  This relational ontology understands that within the Body of Christ there exists diversity and that through this, unity is maintained – and flourishes (112). 
These arguments move the conversation in a helpful direction.  Yet, one is left to wonder what is to be said about those who do not formally participate in ministry.  Further questions are raised about those who do not wish any type of acknowledgement of their repositioning (class discussion, 10/22).  It remains to be seen how Hahnenberg would describe the “ecclesial positioning” of non-ministers in such a way as to not pass an implicit verdict against their choice to refrain from ministerial activity.  Cahalan levels a similar criticism, questioning Hahnenberg’s stance on “the relationship between the minister and the baptized” (Cahalan, 379).  In this matter, the language of relational ontology is less convincing than the language of charism.  Again Cahalan provides a helpful critique. She acknowledges the fecundity of the Trinity as a model for ministry, but points out its limitations because it does not adequately account for the brokenness of human relationships (Cahalan, 379).  Both charismatic gifts of the Spirit and relational ontology distinguish between individuals.  While Cahalan thus suggests discipleship as a more accurate analogy for ministers, I believe an improvement to the Trinitarian analogy would have focused on a fuller articulation of the entire Trinity itself.  Hahnenberg becomes bogged down in a pneumatological ecclesiology and does not develop, for instance, the intricate dynamic of the sending of the Son by the Father, while the Son serves the will of the Father in total obedience.  These mutual relationships underlie the complexity of his original ontological question. A truly Trinitarian construction bases relationships in both action and being/identity.  Just as the Trinity is made known through its entrance into human experience, but possesses a prior (and complete) value, so too does the Christian by nature of his or her baptism.  A fuller exposition of the Trinity and its internal and external relationships would make this clearer.
Hahnenberg investigates the means by which ministers are called forth from the community into service for the community.  He traces a post-Conciliar shift to baptism from ordination as the sacrament of ministry (151).  For many years ordination functioned as a prayer and commissioning of power upon the man to be ordained; the result was not surprising: the monopoly of power was held subsequently by the priest (or bishop) himself.  Since the Council, baptism has become the protean sacrament of ministry; correspondingly, the priesthood of all believers has grown in importance (162).  This shift does not make the priest any less important per se, but rather recognizes the vital role of all the baptized and their participation in the ministry of the church.  Hahnenberg therefore advocates an ecclesiological understanding of baptism (170).  
Hahnenberg traces the stratification of ministry to heavily weighted theologies of ordination.  Because ordination is said to confer an objective ontological change, this “has in effect reduced this ministry to a function as more and more communities experience the priest as one who visits the parish solely to perform the sacramental tasks of Eucharist, penance or baptism” (194).  As a result, ordained ministers seem to operating in one sphere of authority and ontology, while non-ordained ministers operate in another.  Hahnenberg attempts to work within this system by arguing for a liturgical recognition of ministers of all types (204).  He stops short of suggesting the “ordination” of ecclesial lay ministers involved in leadership of parishes, but makes the point that some type of formal recognition is necessary.  Despite a growing acknowledgement of the importance of baptism, Catholics still possess an imagination animated by a sacramental understanding of life.  Catholics understand, appreciate and in many ways expect the community to recognize their leaders in a liturgical setting. 
While the concentric circle model denotes the difference in leadership roles in the community as well as ministerial responsibilities, a vague functionalism pervades Hahnenberg’s arguments.  In the first example provided, Hahnenberg uses a model of concentric circles to describe what he believes to be a more effective structuring of ministries.  Later, he attempts to appropriate a doctrine of the Trinitarian to emphasize the need for relational ministry.  These efforts find their basis in what he calls a relational ontology.  Hahnenberg also argues that ministers of all sorts require some type of official ritual to mark their repositioning in the community.  Yet, Christianity itself is not about ministry per se: if baptism – or any sacrament - is the pivotal moment of Christian life, then this life is about reception of the living presence of God, before anything else.   Hahnenberg corrects this lacuna in an article published in America magazine three years after the publication of Ministries.  Here he develops a deeper theology of vocation – that is, God’s call to ministry. The idea of vocation – a divine call – brings previous arguments of Hahnenberg into focus.  The “ecclesial dimension of vocation,” recognizes both the “radically personal” dimension of the call, as well as the call’s mediation through others, namely “parents and mentors, pastors and teachers, prophets and friends” (Hahnenberg, America).  In the final account, Hahnenberg’s improved model for ministry, Trinitarian recovery and plan for recognition of ministers focus upon two undeniable realties, one practical and one spiritual: the Church is experiencing an influx of new vocations, never before seen and, just as importantly, vocations come from the Living God who, despite our own best efforts, makes all things new (Rev. 21:5).

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