On reading the title of this book one might conclude that it is a work in an esoteric area of liturgiology. But in fact it is a quite interesting book of ecclesiology. So much of church life and polity throughout the history of the church was reflected in the promise of presbyters and deacons to the bishop and religious to their superiors. Strieder clearly but competently traces the various changes in the promise of obedience from one period to the next through an analysis of liturgical orders, in particular the various pontificals. It is interesting to find out how important the bestowal of the pallium was in the past, much more so than at the present time.
It is impossible to trace the journey of the changes of the promise in any detail. Fortunately, for the reader Strieder pauses in his narration of the story of these changes to make some ecclesiological reflections. He begins with the Roman beginnings, and then moves to the ordination rites in the great pontificals of the Romano-Germanic period and beyond into the thirteenth century, concluding with the Council of Trent and the Pontificale Romanum of 1596. Before he moves to the time of the Second Vatican Council he takes up the promise of obedience as understood in the monastic and mendicant orders. He considers the special revisions in the promise in 1990, especially the promise of obedience for religious to the diocesan bishop in the rites of ordination of presbyters and deacons. Before he moves to his final conclusions he devotes a section to the Eastern rites and the Easter Catholic Churches.
As interesting as is the various historical changes in the promise, even more significant for the reader are the conclusions that Strieder draws from his research. Keeping in mind that the previous historical study is indispensable for understanding these conclusions, they are as follows:
2. In the pontificals the promise of obedience is moved to a series of rituals after communion. This gave the promise a more juridical character because it was equivalent to bestowing the faculties to celebrate the Eucharist and hear confessions. This development then became part of what the Council of Trent taught.
3. The diminishment of the metropolitan structure. That meant that the bishop was less beholding to the archbishop and more directly under the pope. This was the beginning of the papal centralization that we have today. Strieder suggests that it would be good to restore more authority to the metropolitan, especially in the choosing of bishops and the liturgy. Then the local church would have more involvement in the choosing of their leaders, the local leaders would have a greater sense of responsibility to the people they serve and there would be less dependence on the pope.
4. The need for a more personal form of the promise of obedience. Ordination is a call to service and not a promotion to power. The form of the promise should call the ordinand to commit himself to the service of the people of the diocese where he serves. The present promise of obedience seems primarily directed to obedience more to a particular bishop than to the larger church.
5.The teaching of the Second Vatican Council on orders has both positive and negative ramifications. The bishop has the fullness of the priesthood and the presbyter shares in that priesthood. How this is to happen has not been fully resolved. The church is built up when bishops and priests are working in unity. Too often presbyters are seen as working like lone rangers.
6. The relationship between diocesan and religious presbyters and the diocesan bishop. The theology of ministry of Vatican Two with its emphasis on presbyters sharing in the priesthood of bishops, the importance of the local church and the bishops' pastoral and liturgical responsibilities has changed the nature of the relation of the religious presbyter to the diocesan bishop. There is an inherent possibility of tension in the present set-up. Strieder does not have much of a solution to this possibility. He suggests that religious presbyters should be true to the charism of their order or congregation and bishops should respect these charisms. He does admit that the real danger is that some bishops whether well intentioned or not will try to crush the charisms of some religious orders. He hopes that what is of the Holy Spirit will survive!
7. The development of the intent of the promise in ordination rites has been more on the sacramental reality of sharing in the one priesthood of Christ rather than on canonical issues of jurisdiction and faculties. "The emphasis is now more centered on the ecclesial reality of a local church, under its bishop, in communion with the universal Church, in which all presbyters strive to build up the body of Christ."
8. Obedience and maturity. In other words, obedience is not a one way street. Whatever adaptations of the promise take place in the future, they should emphasize that obedience in reciprocal. All are to work for the good of the church to meet the needs of the people of God. Presently, this is an unresolved issue.
9. The relationship between pope and bishops. This is another unresolved issue. It seems that it would be good to return to the older tradition of a stronger metropolitan structure with less dependence on a centralized authority. We should return to more local involvement in the selection of bishops.
10. The role of the examination. Despite the fact that the role of the examination in the three rites of ordination (episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate) has been expanded, there is still need for more involvement on the part of the local church. Although Strieder does not refer to it, there is greater than ever need to verify the worthiness of the candidates given the recent scandals in the Catholic Church.
11. The relationship between the profession of faith and the examination. Although the reason for the profession of faith is that the candidate both believe and teach orthodox doctrine, still this should refer to the orthodox faith of the whole church and not to some individual bishop's or Roman congregation's interpretation of it. It should not be used as litmus test in orthodoxy because belief is much deeper than correct articulation of doctrine.
12. Obedience as relational, dynamic and reciprocal. The main point is that the profession of faith be made freely and that it spring from a mature decision. At the present time the church is not very clear what this spiritual maturity is. It would seem that it must encompass a mature approach to obedience and celibacy. But this is not just a one way street. The one to whom the promise is made is also called to a mature understanding of the nature of leadership. All who serve in ecclesiastical office from pope to deacon must beware of the temptation to abuse their power. That such abuse happens more frequently than we would like to admit is patently clear to an unbiased observer.
13. The promise of obedience for deacons and presbyters. Strieder puts the issue clearly and succinctly: there should be more development in the promise of obedience that the presbyter makes to the bishop so that its reflects his sharing in the priesthood of the bishop. At present the promise of obedience is the same for presbyters and deacons but there is no need for the repetition of the same promise. Certainly, the promise for married deacons should reflect in some way the reality of marriage and orders.
14. Proposals for adaptation. The promise should be developed more fully to reflect the significance of this commitment. The promise for deacons should differ from that of presbyters to reflect the difference of the two orders. The promise should be revised to reflect the mutuality in the commitment. Presently, there is nothing about the commitments on the part of the bishops and the pope. The entire examination should be expanded in such a way as to better reflect the role of the community in the ordination. This would make for more reciprocity between the local church and the candidate.
15. Major unresolved issues. First. How do the presbyters share in the priesthood of the bishop? How do religious presbyters share in the priesthood of the diocesan bishop? Second. What is the relationship between bishops and pope? Should not the role of the metropolitan be strengthened since it is an important aspect in the Eastern churches? Finally, the symbols of obedience and reverence will only have meaning if they are based on a mature commitment. What is the mature spiritual formation leading to this commitment? Everything depends on maturity on all sides: deacons, presbyters, bishops and pope.