Fall of the Nuns and Laity (Church Restoration Series IV) By Fr. Anand Muttungal
09 Oct 2011
The second fall in the history of the Church is the fall of the Nuns and Laity from main stream of the Church. The laity included nuns, brothers and ordinary ‘Laity’. Role of laity is very well explained in the book of Acts that they were instrumental in spreading the gospel. The lay people had a major task in taking care of the Church during the persecution time. Lay members led by the Holy Spirit, continued to be a vital part of Christ's mission to spread Christianity till monasticism took over the Church affairs.
A few instances can be quoted here from the early history of the Church. On the day of Pentecost Acts 2 describes that God-fearing Jews from various nations had gathered in Jerusalem, they all received the Holy Spirit. After St. Peter spoke, 3,000 baptisms took place that day (Acts 2:41). The church continued to grow rapidly (verse 47). Many people responded to their teachings and believed in Jesus Christ. Some of these believers may have been part of the 70 or 72 that Christ had commissioned earlier (St. Luke 10:1), but most were probably lay members. That's why the Jerusalem church needed to send Barnabas to minister to the new believers (Acts 11:22-23). It was these devoted members who supported Apostles and other leaders to reach Gospel to the whole world. The first martyr St. Stephen, Epenetus, the first Convert from Asia and first preacher Philip, a leader of the Greek-speaking Christians and above all it is very important that Ananias, a lay man was called to baptize the apostle Paul.
As the hermetic life began men and women lived together. They pursued perfection together without much inferiority or superiority complexes. The book titled “The Life and Epistles of St. Paul” tells how the business woman Phoebe who held prominent place in the Church and she helped St. Paul in his mission, she carried the epistles by hand to members of other churches. Other prominent figures are Lydia , a businesswoman from Thyatira, the most significant couples mentioned is "a Jew named Aquila ...with his wife Priscilla" (Acts 18:2).
The Jewish concept of priesthood of the people is well assimilated in the writings of the Apostles. As the spirituality and canons was churned out in the monasteries, an unwritten strong oral tradition grew taller than the written one that religious clergy stands first, diocesan clergy, the second, nuns and brothers the third grade and the laity the fourth grade. The ministry of preaching, administration of Church and all major activities of the Church was reserved to the clergy. As the Church grew in numbers the Apostles devoted themselves in preaching and entrusted the administration of the Church to the laity, (Acts 6: 3-6), but when monasticism over shadowed the whole church, it forced laity to the fourth grade with deep rooted concepts even nuns and consecrated brothers brought into the category of laity despite their vows. This thinking grew so much so that it became part of the conscience of the Church. Its impact is such that even after two millennium the people are unable to overcome this belief that their place in the Church is below the religious clergy and diocesan clergy.
Winds of change are flowing into the Church as the laity and the nuns are re-claiming their right place in the Church. It is over the centuries that clergy have been feeling that they were supreme on any subject under the sun. The modern educated laity and nuns are also learning theology and Bible. They are slowly developing their own theological views apart from the clergy. They have clear plans to deal with the issues of running Churches, developing its institutions, various aspects of married life and religious life. It has really begun to bring changes in their lives and also in the Church. There are many lay associations coming up with different ministries. Lay associations and lay apostolate which were part of the aspirations of the People of God are now gaining back their right place in the Church. The new evangelization will be led by them rather than the clergy who are orienting themselves in administration of sacraments and administration of Churches and institutions. Reading the signs of the times we must say that it is a prophecy made by late Pope John Paul II, ‘the laity will lead the Church in the third millennium.’