On fear of the priest

Over at Vultus Christi, which I check every day, dom Mark posted a disturbing quote from St. John Chrysostom’s On the priesthood:

All men are ready to pass judgment on the priest as if he was not a being clothed with flesh, or one who inherited a human nature, but like an angel, and emancipated from every species of infirmity. And just as all men fear and flatter a tyrant as long as he is strong, because they cannot put him down, but when they see his affairs going adversely, those who were his friends a short time before abandon their hypocritical respect, and suddenly become his enemies and antagonists, and having discovered all his weak points, make an attack upon him, and depose him from the government; so is it also in the case of priests. Those who honored him and paid court to him a short time before, while he was strong, as soon as they have found some little handle eagerly prepare to depose him, not as a tyrant only, but something far more dreadful than that. And as the tyrant fears his body guards, so also does the priest dread most of all his neighbours and fellow-ministers. For no others covet his dignity so much, or know his affairs so well as these; and if anything occurs, being near at hand, they perceive it before others, and even if they slander him, can easily command belief, and, by magnifying trifles, take their victim captive.

How the Devil works to undermine and reduce the priest and priesthood!

This has always been the case, because the priest stands in persona Christi.  He stands in the place of the Sacrifice, with which he is inextricably intertwined.  He is the liminal, numinous figure though still clearly – sometimes all too clearly – in our midst.  Priesthood, like Mass, is a mystery both tremendum et fascinans.

It must, therefore, be savaged.

People are all too willing to do the Devil’s work when it comes to this sine qua non of our salvation and God’s plan.

This has always been the case, but it is even more so now, I think.  And it will be even more so than now in the near future.

I am reminded of what Card. George said back in 2010. It is grim, but it ends on a high note:

“I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. McCall1981 says:

    Such a powerful quote from Card. George.
    I can’t understand why so many in the Church (from the Pope on down) don’t seem to see this coming.

  2. Priam1184 says:

    That is why so much effort has been put into reducing large portions of the priesthood to milquetoast over the last century I suppose. I believe, and this is not wishful thinking, that this has changed. Larger numbers of priests seem to be finding themselves again, and younger priests who don’t have the baggage of previous generations are manning up. A solid Catholic priesthood would revolutionize this society in a positive direction that the Church’s enemies cannot even imagine now. Which would of course bring about the middle part of Cardinal George’s quote, but I don’t think that those things are avoidable anymore.

  3. Diane at Te Deum Laudamus says:

    My thoughts turned to Pope Francis. He too is a priest, as are the bishops.

  4. JeffK says:

    That’s the optimistic scenario.

    Here’s the pessimistic scenario:

    Society squeezes and penalizes the Church and Christianity, whose numbers continue to decline and whose members rarely take the Gospel seriously.

    But in the name of multiculturalism, all the things Christians can’t say or do, Muslims are permitted. It’s okay to be intolerant, to have divine moral law, etc, etc if you are Muslim.

    As secular society spirals downwards they look to the cool place they are allowed to look for salvation. Islam grows and takes over the world.

    Christians are reduced to a small minority. Those in the open are craven and cowed. Those is secret are filled with passion but are few and constantly hunted.

    Christianity is virtually gone when Our Lord returns. It’s run out of steam. Maybe that’s why He delays! To wring the last drop of salvation from it.

    “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?”

  5. Hans says:


    Not speaking about it publicly is not the same as not seeing it.

  6. notenoughflair says:

    Curious that this comment came up right about the time that Pope Francis discussed the same thing. The line about “taking refuge in a more elaborate religion” made my Traddie Slap Alert flag go up, but then after reading the whole article, the point became more clear. How often do we, in trying to do what we think God desires of us, hide behind our 1962 Missal and lose out on hearing what God has to say because of the communication channel He chooses, instead choosing to shoot the messenger?

    Pope Francis: Friday homily focuses on scandal of preaching
    [Excerpt, Emphasis added]

    The people of that time preferred to take refuge in a more elaborate religion: in the moral precepts, such as the group of Pharisees; in political compromise, as the Sadducees; in social revolution, as the zealots; in gnostic spirituality, such as Essenes. They were [happy] with their clean, well-polished system. The preacher, however, was not [so pleased]. Jesus reminded them: ‘Your fathers did the same with the prophets.’ The people of God have a certain allergy to the preachers of the Word: they persecuted the prophets, [even] killed them.”

    The Pope went on to say that these people claimed to accept the truth of revelation, “but the preacher, preaching, no. They prefer a life caged in their precepts, in their compromises, in their revolutionary plans or in their [disembodied] spirituality.” They are those Christians, who are always discontented with what preachers say:

    “These Christians are closed, they are trapped, sad … these Christians are not free. Why? Because they are afraid of the freedom of the Holy Spirit, which comes through preaching. This, then, is the scandal of preaching, of which St. Paul spoke: the scandal of preaching that ends in the scandal of the Cross. That God should speak to us through men with limits , sinful men, scandalizes: and what scandalizes even more is that that God should speak to us and save us by way of a man who says he is the Son of God but ends [his life] as a criminal. That scandalizes.”

    “These sad Christians,” said Pope Francis, “do not believe in the Holy Spirit , do not believe in the freedom that comes from preaching, which admonishes you, teaches you – slaps you , as well – but it is the very freedom that makes the Church grow.”

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