It is a little over four years ago that the electoral body of the Coptic Church – more than 2,400 clerics, monks, and laypeople – elected their new Pope Tawadros II, successor of the late Shenouda III.
The word election is not quite correct: Tawadros was selected for office by a blindfolded young boy who drew one of three large folded pieces of paper from a ballot. You might have seen this spectacular moment on TV or somewhere in the internet.
The entire procedure of election needed several weeks of discussion, reflection, prayer, and fasting. An electoral committee consisting of nine bishops and nine laypeople played an important role in compiling a list of 17 eligible men, then narrowing it down to 7, then to 5, then the large electoral body chose 3 names by large consensus before the moment of the drawing eventually took place. This is, in a formalized and ceremonial manner, not far away from what we read in Acts 1 about the election of Matthias as apostle. Matthias was selected from two candidates who where both appointed by the assembly. So the Copts have a good reason to call their procedure apostolic election.
I do not know much about the Coptic Church and its bodies, and I do not want to ask what such a procedure would look like if it were transferred to the Catholic Church. I only want to ask: What might it be like to be part of such a procedure?
Although drawing by lots has a long tradition in European political history (several offices e.g. in antique Athens and in the famous medieval republics of Venice and Florence were selected by lot), the Catholic Church today does not use lots as a decider or at least as a tie breaker. Deans, abbots, priests’ councils, and other offices and bodies are elected, but there is always a rule to break an eventual tie: the one who was ordained the earliest wins, the oldest person wins, the chairperson of the electoral body decides, the pope decides, or whatever.
What might it be like to be appointed to office in such a procedure of human decision making with the lot having the final say, or to be one of the losers, or to be one of the electors?
Maybe the allotted person becomes a megalomaniac. If the drawing is strictly seen as a divine decision (cf. Acts 1:24, Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen), the elected person might consider himself God’s personal choice like a second Messiah. But I do not think this would happen. The preceding steps of the entire procedure should help the electors to sort out any potential megalomaniac before his name finds a place in the final ballot.
My scenario is a different one: The elected person will keep in mind until the end of his life that there were at least two others who could be at the same place with the same entitlement. I did not get my office because I was the best. I did not win a competition. I was chosen by consensus, but others were chosen by the same consensus. I did not earn the office with my skills or power, I just happened to come to my new place (cf. Sir 2:4, Accept whatever befalls you).
How about the non-elected? They are not real losers, they just happened not to be drawn (cf. Job 1:21, The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord). They were candidates of consensus, and this remains as a sign of trust by the community and as a sort of responsibility for the community.
And how about the electors? Campaigning for a personal favorite makes no sense. Any elector must be willing to find different eligible candidates, not knowing who of them will win. Corruption and simony are highly restricted – if not impossible at all – by the procedure itself.
If I am correct, the apostolic election does not generate losers in the strict sense. Instead it generates modest electors and a modest winner. And modesty is definitely not the worst for any ecclesiastical office (cf. Ps 115:1, Not to us, o Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory).