In days gone by, the chair was a symbol of authority. In Roman law courts, for example, the magistrate sat to give judgement. In medieval times, nobody would sit themselves down while the king still stood; and to sit upon his throne could be viewed as treason.
On 16 July Bishop Alan Hopes will be installed as the fourth bishop of East Anglia. Since he is already a bishop there will be no Rite of Ordination. The central part of his installation ceremony will involve him sitting in a chair.
The chair in question is the cathedra from which the Cathedral takes its name. The seat reserved only for the diocesan bishop and upon which no-one else may sit, including the Papal Nuncio during this year’s Chrism Mass, or Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor the previous year.
Taking his seat is a sign that Bishop Alan is taking authority within our diocese.
However, the authority of the chair goes beyond medieval courts and Roman legal systems, with a deeper significance than merely one of power.
The chair was originally the symbol of teaching. The teacher sat with his pupils (literally, his ‘disciples’) around him, drawing on his words and example.
The authority of our new bishop, then, springs from his role as one who teaches. He is a successor to the apostles, sent to us to teach Christ.
The invitation of Bishop Alan’s installation service is to view him as a teacher rather than a manager; as one who, by his words and example, can inspire us to learn better the way of Christ.