On Willingly Laying Down One’s Office

The Steward and the King

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Cincinnatus yields up his office (Source)

It seems that the only thing more rare than the rise of a great and powerful leader is his or her willing departure. The idea of “surrendering” one’s office willingly – not because of term limits, or external pressure, or even for retirement, but for the office’s own sake and the common good – is more lauded in theory than bore out in practice. Exemplars are held in high historical esteem – Cincinnatus the noble Roman and George Washington the virtuous American – but infrequently are such models imitated. That yielding one’s power to another without coercion or sacrifice courses roughly with modern Hobbesian notions and individualist self-esteem.

Yet such is the standard set by Faramir, fulfilling his stewardship as once envisioned: surrendering his power, his authority, and his high office to the coming of the King. Such is the purpose of stewardship, yet as Denethor so aptly displayed, the laying down of long-held and practiced rule is not a matter of ease or timidness. In it lies the temptation for pride and vainglory, for envy and jealous, for mistrust and bitterness. It is a gesture woven with such inherent danger and risk that it can only be reasonably performed once signs of Aragorn’s lineage and right to rule are shown, once victory on the field has been achieved and good-will amongst the people foster, with ritual and symbol that connects the act to the promises of the past and the hopes for the future.

It is a hard choice, one that requires courage and discernment, yet one that each of us might face in our own time: to yield authority to its proper source or representative, to sacrifice our own accomplishments for the common good. We may find ourselves elected or appointed to high office, with political power, civic control, or religious resources at our disposal, and perhaps like Faramir a natural nobleness or cultivated honor that desires only the best for our brothers and sisters. Even so, that may not be our task; the very pinnacle of our life’s work may be the giving up of all that we have worked for. Such is the great paradox of Christian service, of self-sacrifice, of deep wisdom.

For we are not even the true rulers of our own lives, no matter how much we delude ourselves. We did not fashion our own bodies or kindle our own souls: we are fair lands handed over to ourselves to foster and to bloom. As we enter into the Easter season, we may recall the hardest mastery which we must yield: the office of our own selves. For the King has come – He has risen indeed! – and has laid his claim over each of us. No matter whether we obtain worldly offices or material power in this life, every one of us does have to choose: to resist the authority of our Creator or to surrender willingly to him. The laying down of our own office, our own mastery, our own authority can seem an act of folly, but instead it is one of liberation, for like Faramir our office does not end when the King enters his city. Instead, it is transformed, renewed, and restored: it strengthens our will, augments our freedom, makes worthy our actions and decrees.

And so, there are many offices to lay down. Like Cincinnatus, we can willingly lay down our offices when our work is fulfilled, and so return to peace and quiet and rest. Like Washington, we can willingly lay down our offices so that we turn not into dictators and tyrants, setting precedents and examples to guide future generations. And like Faramir, we can willingly lay down our offices at the approach of a higher authority, a noble lineage, a true King, and recognize such lordship over ourselves. It is quite likely that only in such a surrender can we possess any hope for both our city and our soul, letting it blossom with gardens and flow with fountains once again.


2015’s Reflection: “On the Need for Justice and Mercy

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