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Authority: Human & Divine, A Preamble

The word ‘authority’ in English means power, may it be shared or absolute, to see and make things happen, to decide, to establish, to govern, to manage etc. The Oxford Dictionary of English Language gives certain explanations to the word authority. Yet they, seem to me at least, need more clarity to be understood from the point of view that I want to address upon, namely, a Christian theological approach. In Greek, the word authority is ‘exousia’, meaning from or out of the being, i.e. something that emanates from or out of the being of a person or a thing. The Sun, for instance, since radiates light in day, has the ultimate authority over the day!

There are two types of authority, namely, external authority and internal authority. When a policeman asks us to park the car at another place, we obey him because of lesser conviction, but of better respecting the authority that is given to him by the Federal Law of the land. This is external authority or we can call it human authority. Bishops, for another instance, have only external authority due to their administrational insignia or the miter. Let us take the example of a simple person, who goes to a supermarket to buy something, of which he or she has seen an advertisement in the TV. The person does it due to the conviction that the advertisement commands a kind of external authority over him or her. A saintly person, whom we respect from within, on the contrary, has always an internal authority over us, which is not imposed by any law or any worldly instance. Law has most of the times external authority and that is why legal people, i.e. advocates or lawyers, always look for the loopholes of the law! Yet there is the spirit of the law that indicates the internal authority to the law. We would like to more concentrate on the internal authority, namely, authority from within or an authority that makes one feel compelled from within out of conviction or in short, authority from or out of the being of a person. This is divine authority.

Internal authority demands always responsibility. We take a decision as manager for instance, to go this way or that way. The result can either be positive or negative. Now, the usual human reaction is to own credit for success and to put blame upon others, when the project fails. Now, both are not reactions of a true authority. True authority is to own responsibility of the result, what ever the result may. Keeping in mind that the basic human psychology demands appreciation, it seems to be more affirmative to say that the true authority rejects shallow, peripheral or superfluous appreciation. Rather, true authority enjoys itself in satisfaction and beauty over the end result.

Responsibility in authority means also to be true to the instances, which have bestowed authority upon one body. There is nobody in this world, who has not been bestowed authority upon by somebody. Positively said, everyone, who has authority, has been given authority by someone! The President or the Prime Minister of a Nation is an elected body by the people of that Nation. An emissary of a Nation is bestowed authority upon by the Government of that Nation. A manager has been bestowed authority upon by the Board of Trustees or Governors of that firm, company or MNC. If one owns a business, he or she has been given authority by the people, who contribute to the success of that business, by a smaller or larger way. In short, authority is always given and it is always mutual. In other words, we are given authority and we give authority! If one is theistic, authority is given by God and therefore, it is divine!

Jesus Christ says: The one, who wants to be served, namely, one who wants authority, shall be the servant of all (Cf. Mt 18:1-5; Mk 9:33-37; Lk 9:46-48). It is in the same spirit that Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. During the end of 6th Century, Pope Gregory the Great took a title keeping this idea in mind, namely, servus servorum dei i.e. servant of the servants of God. We do not know in what spirit his followers understood the title. Yet that title speaks of the true sense of internal authority.

Authority comes through sincere service. If some one works sincerely and silently in an office for a long time and the boss notices it, that person will be given more responsibilities. Slowly a heap of responsibilities accumulate upon and that person becomes an authority by him/herself. After some time, that office would find it very difficult to function smoothly without that person. Even the boss may not be able to take effective decisions without that person. In other words, he/she becomes an expression of authority within that entity.

Authority gets accomplished through a meticulous knowledge of languages and symbols, experience, analytical power, articulation and hard work as well. All these aspects demand in their true sense clarity of thought and precision of expression. Abraham Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg only for three minutes. However, those three best minutes in the history of oratory were to establish the authority of Abraham Lincoln in the then situation of utter confusion on freedom to slaves in the United States of America. There are thousand and more situations in the pages of history to cite to cement the said fact.

Authority emanates from truth, virtue and morality. That which is true, virtuous and morally correct can not be destroyed. Truth, people say, is apparent. Value and morality are said to be more apparent. Now what shall one say on situations to decide upon whether something is true or morally right? In order to decide to what extend truth and morality are apparent, the doer needs conviction from within. Conviction comes only from clearly defined parameters, namely, what do I, we, my organization, my instance, my family and my initiatives etc. want to achieve. Once that is clear, the conviction is there and therefore, a better chance to be authoritative. Yet to be morally correct, the goal that one wants to achieve must also be reasonably justified with beauty, with holistic goodness or in short, with truth!

Finally success also affirms authority. We can conclude this short treatise like this. Authority, if it is true, is internal and divine. If it is garlanded with responsibility, will to serve, sincere hard work, clarity of thought, expression and deed, truth, approbated by the value system, universal goodwill and moral correctness, it cannot be countered. In other words, it becomes absolute and unchallengeable authority or divine authority and it will radiate its fragrance of love, truth and moral correctness. Only such authority will survive. If we accept this challenge, we move forward in the positive, like Jesus Christ, like Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, Mahatma Gandhi, Mar Gregorios of Parumala, Mar Dionesius Vattasseril and the list goes on. May ‘la lotta continua’!