Friday, July 16, 2010

The Hierarchy of Love

There is a Hierarchy of Love that flows from the very nature of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity and is implicit in the names, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. While the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, the Son in love delights to obey the Father, and the Holy Spirit in love and obedience delights to reveal the Father and the Son. In the co-inherence of the separate persons of the Trinity there is a tumult, a superabundance of love, that flows out into all creation in the perfect hierarchical ordering of the Co-Equal Trinity establishing a pattern of perfect joy and harmony for all created beings. Adam and Eve break their co-inherence with their Creator preferring themselves and their own will to God in an essential act of disobedience. They wish to be as God and are not satisfied with their hierarchical place as beloved Creation, beloved sons and daughters of God.

The very first thing that happens is that they lose the mutuality of co-inherence with each other and their revelation of the order of hierarchical love. Eve says, “Eat this” and then Adam, who has freedom of will eats and then blames Eve. That fall from co-inherence, mutual submission and family order has plagued humankind ever after and has all but indelibly marked the nature of each human family, of each husband and wife, of their relationships with their children, and has contaminated the relationship of Christ and His bride, the Church. The result is a broken Hierarchy of Love in which authoritarianism replaces love and the give and take that is necessary for the hierarchy of love to function in a normal manner. The experience of redemption begins a reversal of the broken Hierarchy of Love which deepens with our growth of love and obedience to the Lord who is the source of love.

In the Co-equal, Co-inherent and forever blessed Trinity most carefully we confess that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit each have equal value. “In this Trinity none is afore, or after another; none is greater, or less than another,” yet we recognize that the function of each member of the Trinity differs from another and that there is in this Co-Equal Trinity a Hierarchy of Love. In the ordering of Creation Adam and Eve, man and woman, are created in the image of God each reflecting the nature of God, each being equal, but in that reflection of the nature of God, each has their own role and function in the Hierarchy of Love.

Here I have the sensation of sailing to close to the edge and precipice of our theological flat earth and I feel the threat of trouble brewing; but far be it from me not to, in obedience, sail on. This Hierarchy of Love is precisely what St. Paul was hinting at when he indicated that the fullness of the Spirit comes with mutual submission one to another, the man to his woman and the woman to her man. The husband and the wife stand also in a hierarchical relationship of love to one another, and their children stand in that Hierarchy of Love in their own unique and necessary relationship with their parents. We quail at the words, “the man is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the Church.”

How dare Paul say that and how dare I repeat it? Husband, wife, and child are in the family co-equal and co-inherent, but the husband is the head; to him the wife stands in loving submission, and the child stands in humble obedience to them both, submission and obedience being two different states. The headship of the husband is as the Headship of Christ who gave his life for his bride the Church, even so the husband is to give his very life for his wife. In turn the wife is to acknowledge that headship and submits to the husband in turn giving her life for her husband, and the child who has equal value with them is to obey the husband and wife. Within that Hierarchy of Love, an echo of the divine, is a perfect harmony of joy.

Contemporary society lives, and for some time has lived in a fractured reversal of hierarchical love. Now there exists within families usurpation without atonement and an angry societal rebellion against the very idea of created hierarchical order. The reversal is complete. The child rules the parent, and the wife gives orders to the husband and is affronted when he does not submit. Stubbornly she will stand upon what she fancies are her rights. This personal liberation from the Hierarchy of Love works its way out in the relationship of the parents to the children. You think this isn’t so? Look into any American family and ask the question, “Will little Jamie go to Youth Group tonight?”, and you will hear the answer, “I don’t know. I’ll ask him if he wants to.” There is here no parental limits, no hint of the words, “the child will obey” the parents. Quite the opposite, the parents are hostage to the emotions of the child and will obey the moods of the child lest the child be offended at learning obedience and the implicit loss of autonomy. There is even a feeling that the will of the child should not be broken lest the child be damaged. The truth is that the surrender of the will is an essential element not only of spiritual life, but also of all interpersonal relationships. Individuals are free, not each one to be little independent gods, but free to live in the hierarchy of love with the mutual surrender necessary for society to function. The child in the American family is a spiritual cripple not discovering the joy of the words, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

But remember that the relationship of the husband and wife, is a parable of the relationship of Christ and the Church. The Church itself is called to live within that same structure of hierarchical love. The Bishop, the Priests, the Deacons, and the Laity, the People of God are Co-equal and are called to a bless├ęd co-inherence bearing one another’s burdens and sharing one another’s joy. Gregory the Great spoke only a partial truth when he said that he was the Servant of the Servants of God. The popularised Anglican version is that the Bishop is the Servant of the Servants of the Servants of God, thus including Laity, Deacons, Priests and Bishop in an reversed pattern that in effect denies the Hierarchy of Love flowing from the very nature of God Himself.

The early Church did not view it so. Listen to what St. Ignatius says, “Wherefore it is fitting that you also should run together in accordance with the will of the bishop who by God's appointment rules over you. Which thing you indeed of yourselves do, being instructed by the Spirit. For your justly-renowned presbytery, being worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Thus, being joined together in concord and harmonious love, of which Jesus Christ is the Captain and Guardian, do you, man by man, become but one choir; so that, agreeing together in concord, and obtaining a perfect unity with God, you may indeed be one in harmonious feeling with God the Father, and His beloved Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (Ignatius Letter to the Ephesians). In the early Church view of the relationship of Bishop, Priests, Deacons and Laity, we see a clear image of the order of hierarchical love. The early Church bishops did indeed give their lives for the Church, even as the Church obeyed them and also surrendered up their own lives in joyful obedience.

There is and ought to be a hierarchy of love in the Church for the Church is the family of God the Holy Trinity, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Son in love delights to obey the Father, and the Holy Spirit in love and obedience delights to reveal the Father and the Son. Within the Anglican Communion we have a working out of that same principle within the Four Instruments of Unity: The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Lambeth Conference, The Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates’ Meeting. The challenge of the present time in the Anglican Communion is the restoration of the identity and function of these instruments in a Hierarchy of Love and trust capable of leading the Church.

When the Instruments of Unity together affirm that we need to renew and formalize an Anglican Covenant and the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church declares that the Archbishop of Canterbury has no authority to recommend her compliance with the results of that covenant we have a clear and angry denial of the call to live within the Hierarchy of Love. If your frame of reference is that self-actualization and the exercise of power are the guiding values of the Kingdom of God you have a denial and rebellion against that same Kingdom of God. In the Hierarchy of Love there is such a thing as godly authority; when that is broken we see a demonstration of the first rebellion of Adam and Eve. In the old, old story, what happens next is that when Adam and Eve confirm in action their decision to walk apart from God they are cast out from the Garden, their family is destroyed, and Cain kills Able.