The Problem with St. Skip
Robert Hart on True Humility
In 1976, when I was eighteen and voting for the first time, a friend of mine the same age told me to vote for Jerry Brown because “if he is President, he won’t live in the White House. He’ll just be a regular guy.” That seemed wrong to me then, and at my current age I see that it is because Mr. Brown was letting his own self-importance diminish the dignity of the office he sought.
Oh yes, his seemed like down-to-earth, “regular guy” humility. But it was a statement of egotism beyond simple pride or vanity. Mr. Brown was making himself more important than the office of President of the United States, to the point where he would change the customs and traditions of the American people. Not respecting the people or honoring those who had served before him, he would belittle the office itself.
How much worse is it, then, when one is speaking of a higher and nobler office than the Presidency? Yet a kind of priest exists who does this very thing. “You don’t have to call me Father. All my friends call me Skip.” This is said with the characteristic humility of which he is characteristically proud.
A Regular Guy
Yes, he is just a regular guy and is always very quick to say so. It was this sort who once inflicted clown Masses on innocent people. It is terrible conceit to pretend that one is being very lowly by putting down his office rather than by humbling himself. In sermons and conversations he will remind everyone just how much he really is only a regular guy. He will downplay the significance of theological education and of ordination.
He lets them know that the office he holds does not make him all that special—the office, that is. His “humility” extends to reminding the people that he is not any smarter or holier than they are, whether they need such reminding or not. By this he means, by all that can be observed of his actions, that he has no special calling or authority by virtue of ordination to the sacred ministry.
Perhaps this seems at first glance like the real article, genuine humility, so much so that in the minds of some people, he deserves canonization for it. To them he is St. Skip, and they will not hear a bad word about him.
There can be no genuine “in your face” humility, because true humility requires that one take the attitude of a servant. We cannot help but think of the great Christological passage in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, and that he began the passage with the words, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” The humility of a servant, in the Christian mind, is not self-centered and abrasive, but obedient to the Father’s will; and it includes the death of the cross.
On the other hand, the conceited version of “humility” is a challenge, by which a man hopes to assert himself in a contest of who can be the greatest at being the least. And in true 1960s style, anyone who can win that contest will have succeeded in toppling the powers that be, redesigning the social order, and becoming great at being insignificant.
So we must ask just what St. Skip is really doing by humbling the ministry and thereby exalting himself. What he is doing is promoting egalitarianism and diminishing Christ. He reverses John the Baptist’s statement and says (by his actions and sometimes in his words), “He must decrease, and I must increase. I’m the one in touch with the feelings and needs of today.”
Robert Hart is rector of St. Benedict's Anglican Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Anglican Catholic Church Original Province). He also contributes regularly to the blog The Continuum. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.
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