One of the things that I love about the Anglo-Catholic tradition is that, as Ezra Pound would say, “it all coheres”. For example, the four Orders of the church (or the three types of Holy Orders and the laity). These are the:
- Laity (us regular folk)
- Diaconate (deacons)
- Presbyterate (priests)
- Episcopate (bishops)
Things to note before we proceed: We are ALL part of the laity, even if we’re an archbishop. The origin of the word is from the Greek λαϊκός (laikos), “of the people”. Officially in some churches the laity are actually those who have been baptised. However, the point is all church folk are laity, even if they also have been ordained or consecrated into other orders. At my local church we occasionally have the pleasure of a diocesan Bishop, when not engaged in official duties, worshipping in the pews with us, as it is her home parish. In this capacity she is ‘of the people’.
Another point to note is that throughout much of the Anglican Church in Australia the liturgical role of the deacon is now performed by the liturgical assistant or lay pastoral minister. They may be licensed but they are not ordained.
The church’s roots in Judaism are useful to explain some of the symbolism of these orders. In the analysis to follow I am not suggesting the early church consciously organised like this or when the orders were instituted there was conscious recognition of the links I make here. Only that in drawing from a spiritual framework and tradition (Judasim) and being open to the inspiration of the Spirit results manifest that cohere. In any case, to quote a widely accepted authority on the early church, “The three-tiered system of one bishop in one city, with presbyters and deacons, was attained in the second century without controversy”. (Henry Chadwick, The Early Church, revised edition, 1993, p.51).
The Holy Name of God in Judaism is represented by the letters YHWH ( יהוה). Jewish and particularly Hermetic Qabalah does a lot of exegesis on these four letters, ascribing them to Four Worlds, the four Elemental principles, and the Sephrioth on the Tree of Life among other things. We can assign them to the four orders thus:
Letter of YHWH
Meaning of Order
|Yod | Y | י||Episcopate (bishops)||“overseer”|
|Heh | H | ה||Presbyterate (priests)||“elder”|
|Wau | W | ו||Diaconate (deacons)||“servant”,|
|Heh final | H | ה||Laity (the people)||“of the people”|
Once we have done this much makes sense. The final Heh of YHWH in Hermetic Qabalah relates to the material universe and the element of earth, which is said to be comprised of the synthesis of the other three elements. It contains all within it, so YHW are said to be reflected in the final Heh. Similarly as mentioned already, the laity, contains all – bishops, priests and deacons and the baptised together as one. As we will see, just as the final Heh is the most important of the letters, allowing God’s creation to be manifest, so too is the laity the most important order of the church.
Ideally at each service or Eucharist all four orders would be present, the coming together of the entire church and the four letters of the Holy Name. This rarely happens and rarely happened either in the developing church where there were a fair number of presbyters with deacons and people aplenty but only one bishop per city. Thus developed the custom of comingling where a small piece of the host consecrated by the overseeing bishop was sent to all the churches under his charge. This was known as the fermentum (leaven) and was placed by the presbyter into the chalice and “commingled” with the blood of Christ. In this way the Episcopate was seen to be present. This custom is the origin of the practice of some modern priests who place a portion of the fraction into the wine at their own Eucharist, thus symbolically making present the Episcopate.
The episcopate is of course the order that holds, contains and transmits the apostolic succession. Without a bishop there can be no priests, no deacons and no laity can be served. They themselves hold authority and lineage of the church, functions easily attributed to the first letter of the Name, Yod. They function in some way as the head of the whole schema, much the way Yod is the head of the Holy Name.
Continuing to look at the orders from within the frame of the Holy Name we see the division between the first two orders (bishops and priests) and the second two (deacons and laity) reflects the division articulated in the Qabalah between YH and WH. The first two are primal, noumenal forces, the second two phenomenal. This division is why bishops and priests can consecrate the bread and wine, can stand in persona Christi, that is take on a noumenal blessing, and the other orders cannot.
Looking at the Eucharist further we see the episcopate as the instigating force, embodied in the local bishop, again something attributable to Yod of YHVH. The bishop transmits authority and licence to the ‘passive’ (under oath of obedience) priest in order to perform the sacramental duty of the church. Again we see how the Presbyterate relates to the passive and receptive first Heh of YHVH. It is the combination of roles, the Yod moving into the Heh that allows the priest to stand in persona Christi so the sacraments may be performed.
And here is where the Hermetic Qabalistic poetic redaction of the name of Jesus as YHShVH הושהי (historically spelt as ישוע) comes into its own. Yod of YHVH, the bishop, empowers and transmits blessing and authority to Heh, the priest, so the bread and wine may become the body and blood of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. In the name YHShVH the Holy Spirit is symbolised by the central Shin, Sh. So we see YH coming together with Sh to consecrate the bread and wine to serve the deacons and the people, WH. It all coheres!
It seems likely to me that those Anglo-Catholic priest and bishop members of the historical Golden Dawn would have seen or felt a reflection of all this in the organisation and practice of sacred ceremonies of that Order. To wit:
Letter of YHWH
|Heh||Presbyterate (priests)||Hierophant & Inner Order|
|Heh final||Laity (the people)||Members|
All folk, including chiefs are members. The officers serve in the operation of the sacramental rites headed by the Hierophant like the deacon does for the priest. No meeting can take place without the presence of one of the Chiefs, if only symbolically. There is a division between the Chiefs and the Hierophant (YH) and the Officers and the members (WH) – entry into the second Order where on encounters the Christian mysteries. ‘Nuff said 🙂
As mentioned before, the laity are the most important order of the church. At the conclusion of the Eucharist it is they, who containing with them all other orders, blessed by the presence of Christ’s body and blood take the blessings and mystery out into the real world beyond the church in the power of the spirit. Symbolically this is the presence of the second mode of hermetic redaction of the name of Jesus, YHVShH, with the Holy Spirit symbolised by the letter Sh placed next to the final Heh, the laity. This form of the name is known as a ‘grounding’ or ‘earthing’ form, spirit adjacent to earth, and this is apt here for the laity about to enter the world, remade in Christ. For it is the laity who make real the mystery of faith, it is they who will enable Christ to come again through themselves via their love and service. Thanks. 🙂