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Posted April 26, 2007

Book: Forming a Priestly Identity
Author: Timothy Costello
Editrice Pontifica Universita Gregoriana. Rome. 2002. Pp. 355

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

The question of priestly identity was one of the major concerns raised at the 1990 Synod of Bishops. The Synod considered evidence which shows that many priests experience difficulty in establishing a stable sense of priestly identity. In order to help clarify the exact nature of the problem, this work seeks to identify and evaluate the anthropology implicit in the documents of the VIII Synod of Bishops and the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Pastores dabo vobis.

It was hypothesized that the Synod documents understand human maturity as a necessary though not sufficient condition for priestly identity. The documents are examined in relationship to three themes: human maturity, priestly identity, and the process of formation. An analysis of the Synod’s anthropology highlights its strengths and limitations with regard to the challenge of developing a priestly identity. The Synod’s vision, while valid, requires further eleaboration and specification from a compatible psychological anthropology in order to deal realistically with the problems encountered by individual priests.

The theory of self-transcendent consistency is used as a framework for exploring the kind of maturity required for priestly identity. Drawing from the research of Rulla, Ridick and Imoda, the work explores some of the intrapsychic dynamics that enhance the development of a stable and mature priestly identity. It concludes with an analysis of different models of seminary formation, and the kind of structures needed to favor this desirable goal.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Priestly Identity

The crisis of priestly identity that arose in the years immediately following the Second Vatican Council provides the historical context for the doctrinal exposition of he nature and mission of the priesthood. The widespread turmoil experienced by priests in many parts of the world created an atmosphere of urgency that forced the 1971 Synod of Bishops to clarify aspects of the Council’s teaching about ministerial priesthood.

The postconciliar crisis in priestly life has been attributed to various causes. Ratzinger holds that an uncritical acceptance of protestant exegesis by catholic scholars effectively undermined the theological foundations of ministerial priesthood. Along similar lines, Castellucci discusses three reductive misreadings of conciliar ecclesiology which had negative repercussions on priestly identity. Caprile ascribes the crisis to the impact of powerful socio-cultural forces outside the church, and largely beyond its control, which led to a progressive emarginization of organized religion and consequent loss of identity for its priests. Arbuckle describes the collision of two cultural forces: the renewal instigated within the church by Vatican II, and the “revolution of expressive disorder” that shook many western societies in the late 1960's. it can be concluded that the post-conciliar crisis of priestly identity had theological roots, was exacerbated by events outside the church, and had profound spiritual, pastoral, sociological, and psychological consequences.

Pope John Paul II, who participated in the 1971 Synod as archbishop of Krakow, acknowledges the impact of the crisis of priestly identity:

This crisis arose in the years immediately following the council. It was based on an erroneous understanding of — and sometimes even a conscious bias against — the doctrine of the conciliar magisterium. Undoubtedly, herein lies one of the reasons for the great number of defections experienced then by the church, losses which did serious harm to pastoral ministry and priestly vocations, especially missionary vocations.

The text emphasises the theological dimension of the crisis and, consequently, suggests that the appropriate solution is a clear articulation of the church’s faith regarding the ministerial priesthood.

The second chapter of Pastores dabo vobis provides a synthesis of the church’s teaching on the priesthood. A recent study has undertaken a detailed analysis of the theological content and structure of the document:

In its description of the nature and mission of the priesthood PDV employs three distinct yet profoundly interconnected perspectives that server to bring the picture of the ministerial priesthood into clearer focus. They are the pillars upon which the document’s balanced, coherent, and comprehensive understanding of the contemporary priesthood is established. The three perspectives are ecclesial, christological, and pastoral. Although it has been shown that these themes also permeate the Church’s conciliar and postconciliar teachingon ministerial priesthood, they are much more clearly articulated in PVD which uses them to organize the major sections of the doctrinal exposition and then reiterates them in each subsequent chapter of the document.

The three perspectives have also been identified as an interpretive key in reading the Lineament and the Instrumentum Laboris. Any discussion of priestly identity must necessarily elaborate upon the interplay of these three elements.

The apostolic exhortation highlights four interconnected relationships which determine and bring about priestly identity. The first derives from the priest’s sharing in the trinitarian life of God and from a particular configuration to Christ as head of the church. The second is the relationship of hierarchical communion between the priest and his bishop, among the bishops themselves, and among the priests within a particular presbyterate. The third relationship places the priest at the service of the christian assembly and rests on the distinction and mutual complementarity of the common and ministerial priesthood. The fourth relationship orients the priest towards those who live beyond the visible parameters of the church and constitutes the missionary dimension of the priesthood. The document, thus, places the priest at the crossroads of four paths . . .at the intersection of four roads.

. . . While each of the relationships has christological, ecclesial, and pastoral aspects it is the christological dimension which constitutes the critical key for understanding ministerial priesthood.

The priority of the christological relationship has an important consequence for priestly spirituality. It is insufficient to think of the priest as a baptized christian who happens to perform certain religious functions on behalf of the community. The ministerial priests, in virtue of his vocation, represents Christ as head, shepherd, and spouse of the church. The spiritual identity of the priest “is marked, molded, and characterized by the way of thinking and acting proper to Jesus Christ, head and shepherd of the church. . .”

Table of Contents:

1. A question about priestly identity

2. Anthropology of priestly formation

3. Personal identity and its development

4. Priestly identity and its development

5. Formation of priestly identity