Our high ranking under Feudalism made it hard for us clerics to act like simple shepherds.

Tuesday, 8/21/12

In the first reading Ezekiel expressed God’s discontent with Jerusalem’s religious leaders. He was speaking in the years leading up to the Babylonian Captivity when those leaders had slipped so far, that they were beyond saving.

For the most part our present day church leaders are fine men and women, but history has handicapped our priests, making it hard for them to behave as simple loving shepherds.

Pardon me for harping on this bit of history. From the year 350 a.d. to 500 a.d. Europe was over run with Arians. They did not honor Jesus as the Son of God, and they almost managed to wipe out the true Christians. The popes had their backs to the wall. Then, a new tribe, the Franks, came in, and the king married a Catholic girl who urged him to have his people baptized.

The whole nation was baptized at Christmas of 496, but the priests ran into a problem. The Franks, like all races under Feudalism, had a simple two-tier social structure. On top were those with inheritances that gave them lands and slaves. On the bottom were the non-persons without inheritances. They had to sleep with the pigs. The priests and bishops didn’t want to do it. That was the problem.

So, in 500 a.d. they rigged up a ceremony where each priest and bishop in his Sunday best came before the nobles announcing, “I have an inheritance. My inheritance is the Lord.” The only thing I got to say at my ordination sixty years ago was, “My inheritance is the Lord.”

The Germanic word they used for inheritance was klerk. From that they took to calling us “Clerics.”

That solved one problem, but it gave rise to another one. The nobles demanded that we act important. Like the French say, “Noblesse oblige.”  So, we had to be addressed as Reverend, or Very Reverend, or Right Reverend, or Most Reverend.

That introduced a conflict into our clerical souls. While acting like nobles we were plagued by the memory of Jesus saying, “You know how among the Gentiles those who exercise authority lord it over them, and their superiors make their importance felt, but it cannot be that way with you.”   

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