On The Dwelling Of A Bishop
I am a very traditionally minded person – not only in religious matters – and to me authority has always had not only the right, but the duty to show itself. It is, therefore, rather natural to me that, say, the President of the Italian Republic would live in possibly the most stunning of all stunning Italian palaces; a dwelling once considered, ahem, fit for a Pope (before the Age Of The Bus, that is).
The same reasoning I apply, naturally as it seems to me, to a bishop. A successor of the Apostles and with the same formal rank as a Pope, a Bishop should live in a place – and, in certain matters, in a way – fitting his rank, and immediately conveying the importance of the position he holds.
A Bishop should, if you ask me, be immediately recognisable as a personage of absolute preeminence, and unquestionable rank. Even by heathens, atheist, and children. Let him live in a splendid palace, then, whenever the condition of the diocese affords (in the West, it generally does unless the money is squandered in stupid committees), and let us ask wealthy Catholics to give a sound contribution to a visible presence of the Bishop in the middle of his sheep.
This requires, though, a couple of distinctions and reflections:
1. There should be, in principle, only one bishop for every diocese. Diocese with multiple bishops, of whom de facto only one runs the diocese, diminish the importance of the role and confuse the faithful about what a bishop is. I do not know when this fashion of the multiple bishops began, but it seems wrong to me.
2. A bishop should be a man who accepts what comes with his role. If he'd rather be a country curate, let him be a country curate by all means, whilst another is the bishop; or let him be the bishop, and suffer in silence the loss of his little cottage. A bishop should have, if you ask me, as little right to play “one of us” than a Pope. A bishop living in a three bedroom flat, or even in a suburban house, is sending exactly the wrong message, because he is cheapening the office. People understand power and influence at an instinctive, not rational level. If the King lives in a cottage, he has no place being a King.
3. Such a bishop will have a far greater attention on him than the modern eunuchs in black. He will be located square in the middle of the community, with his persona as well as with his palace. With all eyes on him, the pressure will grow to behave like a leader of men should. Exactly as simplicity deprives of influence, Pomp has this beautiful side effect, that it reminds everyone that one person, that one and no other, is in charge.
4. The luxury of a bishop should be luxury that defies the centuries, not the result of his particular taste. A bishop building a splendid palace with an imposing stone facade has put Christ square in the middle of the community; a bishop spending vast amounts of money on his caprices (say: senseless modern art, or architectonical extravagances) is justly chastised. But again, a man of God will always have a clear perception of whether he is erecting a monument to the greatness of the Church, or to his own vanity. Similarly, the preeminence of the bishop should make clear to everyone the power of the Church, and Her demand to count, and to lead the lives of men. This palace, and this presence, must be as public as the Bishop is, as central as Christ has the right to be. The splendid palace near the Cathedral is one thing, the big villa in the leafy suburbs for the private enjoyment of the bishop quite another.
Well, these are my personal reflections on the matter. I am sick and tired of all these example of humble prelates living in humble dwellings, and of this proto-Socialist thinking according to which the humbler, the better. In most cases, the office will be damaged as his holder gets exalted for devaluing his role. It can't be right.
A bishop has a public role and the duty to carry it out in a fitting way, just like a king.
Let him be a king in his diocese, then; smack dab in the middle of the community, but knowing that the entire community watches him.
Methinks we would have not only splendid palaces but better bishops, too.