As early as the third century, the church fathers (sic) uniformly made the leap of seeing Jesus’ words about the scribes and Pharisees as applying to Christian leaders. An early anonymous work … says of the seat of Moses, “The chair does not make the priest, but the priest, the chair…Not every priest is holy, but all the holy are priests.” The phylacteries and fringes are compared to Christian holy objects to which people cling without any true or deeper piety. Yet as for following flawed leaders’ teachings, “[Y]ou must honor good priests and bad, lest you condemn the good on account of the bad…Remember that wretched land may produce precious gold.” But laity are competent to judge the priests on their behavior, while honoring their teachings. Origen says that deacons loved to get the best places at church, and that priests and bishops were worse. John Chrysostom says that a truly good pastor should be the opposite of those described here, “a rigorous and severe judge in things that concern himself. But in the matters of those whom he rules, he ought to be gentle and ready to make allowances.”Before 1999, members of the clergy were usually ranked first among the professions in terms of their honesty and ethics. Since 1999, they have dropped to 7th place. How can the church improve ethical standards of accountability among the clergy, while still affirming the gospel call to forgive the sinner?
Homily Service: An Ecumenical Resource for Sharing the Word, vol. 41, no. 4, p. 120.
Melinda Reagor Flannery is Assistant University Librarian: Technical Services at the Fondren Library of Rice University.