Ordination Angst

Hus at the Stake

Tonight, my doubts crawl like roaches out of the cracks of my theology and fly about the room with whispering wings before the snap of a hard-shelled landing on the wall.  In two days, I shall finally be ordained a priest.  I am honored that the University’s protegé, Johann Eck, will officiate.

But I cannot sleep and sit for hours by the window.  A mist falls.  The street is empty.  The lamps that burn before the shops make weak circles that hardly dent the night. 

In his cot, my friend Zell sleeps untroubled.  At repose, his face is not nearly as handsome as it seems when he is awake, animated, amused.  His nose is long and as straight as if drawn with a ruler.  His chin is reticent, his eyelids so thick that his eyes appear half closed much of the time.  He is a lean, angular man with bony cheeks and forehead.  Asleep, he appears halfway to a skeleton. 

But awake, he is always in good humour, playful as a pudel, shining with love for life and people.  When he speaks at the cathedral, the crowds are large.  He is thirty-two years old, a man whose enthusiasm and sympathy married to eager, virile movements are an irresistible bait to women.  Matthew is often over his head before he even realizes he’s reached the water.  Now he sleeps, his arms thrown wide as if to embrace the world.  He questions neither his sins nor his redemption.

I take the candle and walk to the door of our room.  Across from us, the students keep a dog and several cats.  They let the excrement accumulate, and the stench reaches me.  Our Midas landlady charges extra for the dog.  She turns even dog turds to gold.

Perhaps I am troubled by my dead father’s voice, who begged me with his final breath not to become a priest.  He believed the clergy parasites, keeping concubines, fathering bastard children who never have legal rights, and fleecing the people for money at every turn. 

My father was only a winemaker, but he thought much.  He had a copy of the writings of Jan Hus, the Bohemian heretic, hidden in a sling under a chair.  He agreed with Hus that Christ was the Head of His church, not the Pope, a belief that calls into question the authority of Rome and makes every pronouncement of the Curia suspect.

I turn away from the stench, retreating to the window again.  I always saw a life of service to Christ’s people to be a marvelous thing.  “If you want to serve the people,” my father growled, “then become a doctor.”  He sacrificed much for my medical studies.  Yet, I never believed myself gifted as a doctor, and I followed the maxim of Hippocrates when I deserted medicine, that being the only way to be certain that I did no harm. 

But though I may have absorbed my father’s doubting inclination, his doubts are not mine.  That some priests are lazy or corrupt is no reason to shun the priesthood, for I shall not be lazy or corrupt.  No, my doubts are deeper and strike at the very heart of faith.  I cannot believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  And yet, I shall be ordained a priest to celebrate the Eucharist.  I shall teach the  people this doctrine, and I shall, by my very lifting of the elements, testify to my faith in such.  And so, I shall be a fraud.

In desperation, I can only clutch at Ockham’s Nominalism.  There is reason, and there is revelation.  Two truths.  I accept by faith what reason rejects.  And yet, I hear Hubmaier’s voice at our last card game.  Two truths or three hundred.  Or none at all. 

I see two staggering figures leaning on one another, two students trying to find their house after hours of debauchery.  One lists to the side until he steps into the Bächle, the rivulets that flow in Freiberg’s streets to water cattle, contain fires, and carry away refuse.  The students make no noise, as if aware of the gravity of their situation.  May God have mercy upon us all.


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Published in: on February 28, 2011 at 7:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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