The permanent diaconate, a reality in the ecclesial structure of the church in the United States since its renewal by the Second Vatican Council, has been the topic of several volumes in the Paulist Press Deacon’s Library series. Kenan Osborne, O.F.M., emeritus professor of systematic theology at the Franciscan School of Theology, Berkeley, is a distinguished author whose past works include Christian Sacraments in a Postmodern World (1999).
There is no question that the evolving ministry of the permanent deacon in the United States continues to be in search of a theology. Nor is there any question that the deacons themselves find it difficult to articulate a clear personal identity. As Osborne points out, while the Second Vatican Council paved the way for the emergence of the diaconate after a hiatus of some 1,200 years, the actual implementation of the order has been left to the local bishop. Clearly this presents a problem for the development of the diaconate in the future.
Part I of this book, “Ministry and Leadership in the Latin Church Today: Contextual Considerations,” contains several chapters that lay a solid groundwork for discussing the identity of the deacon within the hierarchical structure of the church. Osborne sets the stage by calling for a clear articulation of the context in which one must view the diaconate. A “wide-ranging view of today’s institutional church and ministry,” he writes, provides this context. The author suggests that the ministry of all baptized-confirmed Christians, the papacy, episcopacy, priesthood, diaconate and lay men and women must be factored in to develop the context. This section of the book offers a well-crafted synthesis of each of the ministries as it unfolds, beginning with the Second Vatican Council. The chapters offer a solid foundation for continued discussion of the diaconate.
Significant to the discussion is the author’s ongoing exposition of the threefold ministry (priest, prophet, king) as found in each of the texts of the Vatican Council that relate to specific orders within the church. The redefinition of the episcopacy and of priesthood are presented clearly and at length as they have evolved since Vatican II. So, too, are the challenges that such redefinitions pose. Rather than see each order as separate from the other, Osborne stresses the need for a perspective of interrelationship that recognizes the role of each as carrying out the mission of Christ in some unique fashion.
In the chapter on the renewal of the permanent diaconate, Osborne identifies three areas that pose problems regarding the place of the deacon within the ecclesial structure. The first issue is at the theological level—namely, the relationship of bishop-priest-deacon. The second, at the pastoral level, is boundary issues, while the third, at the personal level, is the issue of self-identity. Throughout this chapter, Osborne focuses on the most significant issues related to the order of deacon today.
The following chapter, unfortunately, is devoted to a study of the emerging role of lay men and women in ministry today. While no doubt a challenge to the development of a unique ministry of deacon (the topic has already been discussed in a prior book in the Paulist Deacon Library), it diverts the reader from the primary focus of this book.
Part II, “Diaconal Ministry in a Post-Vatican II Church,” takes up various topics related, at some level, to those raised in the first part of the book—questions, for instance, related to deacon formation. The author appears to be under the impression that all deacons are being formed without a solid theological foundation. While this may be true of many, it is not universally so. Some dioceses provide graduate programs for those in formation.
Quite interesting are the chapters on deaconesses and on the anointing of the sick. Missing from the conversation is any development of the fact that the majority of permanent deacons are married men. This certainly has an impact on their self-identity as deacons and on the people’s understanding of clerical ministry.
Seen within the corpus of The Paulist Press Deacon’s Library, Osborne’s volume certainly has a place. Standing alone, however, as a single volume on the diaconate, it does not sufficiently cover the history of the order nor the questions related to its future development.
, is director of faith formation for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y.