Do Not Pastor From Ambition

In my reading for class the other day, I came across a passage from Chrysostom that pastors and aspiring pastors would do well to heed today.

In his book On the Priesthood, Chrysostom has just tricked his friend Basil (not a promising start, but bear with the man). They had agreed that if either of them would go into the priesthood, they would go together; if they would refrain, both would refrain. However, after Chrysostom said he would accept his appointment and Basil made arrangements to follow his lead, Chrysostom hid and let Basil be ordained alone, leaving Basil to ask why he tricked him and what he’s supposed to do now. Chrysostom tells Basil that he tricked him so that the Church would not be deprived of such a worthy priest, but he himself declined the offer because his own character was not up to the task.

Some people would have said that Chrysostom was tricking Basil because he must have been ambitious, because he must have thought–like many others at the time–that the priests sidetracked their careers to care for others, whereas the solo ascetics got the real glory and fame. Chrysostom denies this charge, arguing that the priesthood is actually the more admirable vocation of the two, but he says that the priest who accepts the call out of ambition will be a poor priest in the end. He sees this ambition in himself, and he claims that this is why he is unfit for the ministry.

I don’t know exactly what to make of Chrysostom’s view of himself, but I’m fairly sure he has a good read on this truth about pastoral ministry:

For there are very many other qualities, Basil, besides those already mentioned, which the priest ought to have, but which I do not possess; and, above all, this one:—his soul ought to be thoroughly purged from any lust after the office: for if he happens to have a natural inclination for this dignity, as soon as he attains it a stronger flame is kindled, and the man being taken completely captive will endure innumerable evils in order to keep a secure hold upon it, even to the extent of using flattery, or submitting to something base and ignoble, or expending large sums of money.

-Chrysostom, On the Priesthood, 3.10

In fact, Chrysostom seems to have a good read on what James says right before talking about “the wisdom from above”:

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

-James 3:15-16

Let us purge our souls “from any lust after office,” that we might instead become servants of God and the servants of God’s servants, for there is one Lord: Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

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