(Melbourne) David's previous
(Melbourne) David's previous articles
Reinvention of the Fisherman
rise of the monarchical Papacy
a conversation at the beginning of Vatican II Yves Congar OP told his fellow
conciliar peritus (theological expert)
Hans Kung, If you want to understand the
Roman Catholic Church today, look at the eleventh Century. During that
critical time the world witnessed Christianity face massive secular political
challenges, experienced the tragic West – East schism, the rise of Roman
absolutism, the discipline of enforced celibacy and the entrenchment of
was correct in identifying the papacy of Gregory VII (1073-1088) as the
transformative moment for the status and function of the Fisherman in both ecclesiastical and secular societies.
it was one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century and perhaps the
greatest ecclesiologists of all time, Yves Congar, who argued that the
great turning point in ecclesiology is the eleventh century. The turning point
is, of course, embodied in the person of Gregory VII. Congar
acknowledged, as any historian must, that Gregory VII faced overwhelming
internal and external problems when he was elected, as a reformer, in 1073.
Unfortunately, in a good-faith effort to amass the kind of legal support he felt
he needed to combat these problems,
Gregory created a new kind of papacy. As Congar pointed out, by seeking to rely
on legal precedents for the exercise of what should be only a spiritual
authority, Gregory ended up by making the Church itself into a legal institution with
power as the basis for everything.
VII thereby launched the second-millennial papacy as a legalistic, monarchical
office – a concept foreign to the first millennial Church and the whole of the
East. It is perhaps not entirely coincidental that it was Gregory VII who
decreed in 1073 that the title ‘pope’ should thereafter be restricted to the
Bishop of Rome. It had previously been applied to every bishop in the West, and
even to priests in the East. The Roman Curia was established soon after
Gregory’s pontificate, by Urban II (1088-99), but it did not become fully
organised and operational until 1588, under Sixtus V (1588-90).”
-Richard P. McBrien
In Peter Phan (ed) The Gift of the Church:
A Textbook Ecclesiology (Liturgical Press, 2000) 327.
a result of the Gregorian reforms, actually begun by Nicholas II in 1059, papal
elections were taken out of the hands of the Roman clergy and people. It now
became the preserve and privilege of the College of Cardinals. In a very real
sense this contributed to the creation of a power group, a church within the
Church, made up of clerics who transformed themselves into a self-perpetuating
ruling class of the elite and privileged. Papal hegemony and its Curial servants
became institutionalised, entrenched and claimed complete authority in heaven
and earth by virtue of the primacy of the Petrine office.
culture of the Roman papal court, however, ultimately gave rise to the
circumstances where power and corruption thrived to such an extent that the
Church became almost totally unrecognizable from the feudal secular fiefdoms
which hosted it. Martin Luther later had substantial issues with this
ecclesiastical entity and its polity. He initiated the challenge from the inside
and it was left then to the like-minded the outsiders to continue the protest.
But perhaps the most constructively loyal criticism of papal power in the last
few centuries came not from outside the Tradition but from one at its very
centre, John Henry Cardinal Newman.
– the sleeper in the Tradition
an August 22, 1870 letter to his dear friend and fellow Oratorian, Ambrose St
John, Newman wrote of his frustration with both Pius IX and the first Vatican
Council. It was one month after the promulgation of papal infallibility,
We have come to
the climax of tyranny. It is not good for a pope to live nearly twenty years. It
is anomaly, and bears no fruit; he becomes a god, has no one to contradict him,
does not know the facts and does cruel things without meaning it. We must hope,
for one is obliged to hope it, that the Pope will be driven from Rome and will
not continue the Council or that there will be another pope. It is sad he should
force us to such wishes.
Newman was quite forthright about his intense and hostile feelings in relation
to Pius IX he also harboured serious reservations about the dogmatic status of
papal infallibility and its demands on the assent of faith itself,
have never thought it likely to be true, never thought it certain. …. On the
whole, then, I hold it, but I count it no sin if, on the grounds of reason, I
doubt it. …. I hold the Pope’s infallibility, not as a dogma, but as a
theological opinion; that is, not as a certainty, but as a probability. ….. I
only have an opinion (not faith) that the Pope is infallible.
Francis A Sullivan SJ, “Newman and
Infallibility,’ in Ian Ker and Alan G. Hill (1990), Newman after a Hundred Years, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 430.
right now need to take very seriously Newman’s perspectives on the papacy’s
claims not only to absolute doctrinal authority but also to its demands of
submission of mind and will in the assent of faith. Determining the truth of
God’s revelation in Christ is the work of the whole Church not just that of a
privileged sector, Infallibility resides
in the laity and the Magisterium in a unitary way, as a figure is contained on
the seal (the Magisterium) and on the
wax (the Laity) – Edward J. Miller (1987), Newman on the Idea of the Church.
the past thirty five years the papacy has chosen to forget this and to intensify
its demands for total, unilateral, infantile and blind obedience. It is now
described as listening to Christ but
its ecclesiastical name is loyalty to
the Pope and to the (his) Magisterium.
More and more the Vicar of Christ has become confused with Jesus Christ himself
and the Magisterium promoted as the sole embodiment of divine revelation.
is becoming increasingly obvious that during his years as Prefect of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Joseph Ratzinger laid out the agenda
for JP II’s New Evangelisation and
for his own future extensive program, The
Reform of the Reform. Integral to Ratzinger’s strategy was to focus on
establishing a credible sense of Continuity
between the JP II – Benedict XVI Magisterium, Vatican II and previous
conciliar doctrine. A major obstacle to navigate was the Second Vatican Council
itself whose vision was indeed novel, sometimes even discontinuous with the
thrust of former councils especially Trent and Vat I. The Ecclesiology of Vat
II, while acknowledging the essential links with the past, in fact profoundly
stressed the boundaries of thought, imagination and theologies of former
Councils. Australian theologian Ormond Rush makes the point,
II clearly did not represent macro-rupture, but the Council did effect
micro-ruptures, especially with regard to religious freedom, the Church’s
stance towards Judaism, the need for fundamental reform of the liturgy, and our
understanding of the relationship among hierarchy, clergy and laity.
to Ratzinger’s strategy to install his ‘reformist’ programmes was to
insist that the documents Vat II had been misinterpreted, even distorted, and
consequently there was a pressing need for urgent and authoritative correction
– from above. He had to argue an ambit claim that the papal Magisterium, and
those loyal to it, was the only legitimate authority to be in a position to
offer such corrections and provide authentic interpretations of Vat II.
impression is that the authentically Catholic meaning of the reality
‘Church’ is tacitly disappearing, without being expressly rejected. Many no
longer believe that what is at issue is a reality willed
by the Lord himself. Even with some theologians, the Church appears to be
a human construction, an instrument created by us and one which we
ourselves can freely reorganise according
to the requirement of the moment. –The Ratzinger
theological speculation of Cardinal Ratzinger has now taken on the certainties
of his pontificate as Benedict XVI. As Pope he has enshrined a doctrine which he
designed, constructed and emplaced for his predecessor JP II. Furthermore,
Benedict’s beatification of Karol Wojtyla could be interpreted as a move to
endorse by infallible decree the entire pontificate of JP II his teaching, his
systemic re-interpretation of Vatican II and the reestablishment of an
authoritarian Church ruled by a monarchical papacy.
and the Papacy writ large
Catholic theology, the Pope is described as the Vicar of Christ on Earth and,
according to the provisions of Canon Law, he enjoys total and absolute power:
juridical, executive, judicial. A demystification of that kind of power is the
last thing the Papacy needs. And its minders are doing their utmost to see that
this does not happen. It is called, making
scorched earth around the Pope.
installing the agenda of a re-papalized Church, it seems that Ratzinger/Benedict
is spending his end days solidifying his policy in an all-out campaign to
elevate the papacy to Ultramontanist heights rarely imagined. One of the most
spectacular examples of this enshrinement of papal power, authority and
centrality in the Tradition is seen in the homily Benedict gave at the
consistory for the new Cardinals last February. In his favourite off the cuff
homiletic genre, the sensus plenior
type patristic, free-association address, Benedict used the images of
architectural grandeur and permanence as analogies for the papacy and its status
in his vision of the Ecclesia,
does this sculptural composition say to us, this product of Bernini’s genius?
It represents a vision of the essence of the Church and the place within the
Church of the Petrine Magisterium. Benedict
went on to speak of the permanence and immutability of the very structure of the
Church is not self-regulating, she does not determine her own structure but
receives it from the word of God, to which she listens in faith as she seeks to
understand it and live it. Within the ecclesial Community, the Fathers of the
Church fulfil the function of guaranteeing fidelity to sacred scripture. They
ensure that the Church receives reliable and solid exegesis, capable of forming
with the Chair of Peter a stable and consistent whole.
recently during his visit to Milan for the International celebrations for
Family, Benedict was greeted rapturously by huge crowds which affirmed him as
the living Vicar of Christ on earth. Benedict responded in kind reminding the
people of the loyalty to the Chair of Peter expressed by St Ambrose in the
it is known, Ambrose came from a Roman family and ..he praises the primacy of
the bishop of Rome…In Peter – he affirms -’There
is the foundation of the Church and the Magisterium of Discipline
and again the well-known declaration,
Where Peter is, there is the Church…Ubi
Petrus, ibi Ecclesia.
is ecclesiology by hyperbole, a populist and dangerous adulation of the
personality of the Pope and the nebulous Magisterium
of Discipline. In this cult-like culture of papalism, the centrality of
Christ and his human incarnation of the Kingdom of God can easily be forgotten.
The Church has long guarded and valued the tradition that Jesus chose Peter and
not the other way round.
should be noted, however, that any notion of limits and boundaries on the scope
and authority of the Petrine Office disappeared in Ratzinger’s theology as far
back as the late 1960s. He began then to rethink and radically redefine his
ecclesiology, abandoning his convictions of Council years that the local
ecclesial communities were and are primary, in favour of the pre-existence and
pre-eminence of the Universal Church. It is not surprising then that his logic
leads to the conclusion that supreme and absolute authority subsists in Peter
and his Magisterium. The local ecclesial communities are essentially branch
offices of the Vatican with the apostles of the Diaspora and their authority being secondary and subservient.
balance: Magisterium - Hierarchy + the Laity
episcopate, whose action was so prompt and concordant at Nicea on the rise of
Arianism, did not, as a class or order of men, play a good part in the troubles
consequent upon the Council, and the laity did. The Catholic people, in the
length and breadth of Christendom, were the obstinate champions of Catholic
truth, and the bishops were not.
of the laity, I speak inclusively of their parish priests (so to call them), at
least in many places; but on the whole, taking a wide view of history, we are
obliged to say that the governing body of the Church come short, and the
governed were pre-eminent in faith, zeal, courage, and constancy.
– Arians in the Fourth Century.
as we have seen, was highly suspicious of papal cult at the expense of his role
as the servant voice of the whole Church. The faith is not the Pope’s private
property, his own Depositum,
but rather the collective faith of the People of God.
cautionary reminder of the critical importance of the laity as the co-guardians
of the Sensus Fidelium (sense of the
Faithful) and also the sensus Fidei
(sense of the Faith) has been largely lost since he wrote and which Vatican II
reiterated. Shared ecclesial memory of
the all has fallen victim to a
selective amnesia of the
many in the Church are calling for in addition to spiritual renewal is far
reaching fundamental reform of ecclesial structure and governance. Benedict is
invoking a theology of Church which is based on the affirmation of a divine
plan, the actual will of the Lord which diminishes this. This kind of
theological fundamentalism suggests that the Pope has a direct and privileged
line of communication with God so that he is in a position, without external
moderation or verification to insist on divine imperatives.
It is also aided by the increasing and rather arbitrary use of the term infallible,
now conveniently inserted into pontifical documents where the doctrinal note definitive was previously employed.
insistence on the critical role of the laity in affirming the right
and the true in Church teaching remains one of the great subversive elements
in Catholic ecclesial life. At its peril would the hierarchy dismiss the lay Sensus
Fidelium as the Rambler commentary
danger now, he (Newman)
asserts, is that when the hierarchy is sound and faithful, the laity should be
neglected and relegated to an audience, or at best, playing a supporting role.
This kind of liberal understanding of the role of the laity in the church din
not go over well with the Church authorities, and Newman remained under a cloud
of Vatican suspicion for years. –
(note on Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine,
clear and present danger
it is worthwhile noting some perceptions about the Church today. Perceptions are
important because, whether founded or not, they have to potential to make or
break both individuals and organisations.
of these more dangerous perceptions are: that the role of the Fisherman has
usurped that of the Master who called him; Peter has now become the Christ; that
the institutional Church has now established coextensive borders with the
Kingdom of God; that a pedagogical instrument, the Catechism of the Catholic
Church has been elevated to the rank of principal interpretative tool of the
Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, the Spirit
is now captive to ideology and a
tool of indoctrination; that the Code
of Canon Law has been promoted as a principal guide book for those called to
lead as priest, prophet and sanctifier; that the Gospel itself is now stripped
of its power to confront, challenge and subvert its own servant, the Church.
Catholic Church needs a new breath of the Spirit of God and a renewal of vision
begun by John XXIII when he convoked the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago.
That Council went a long way in liberating the Catholic Church from the milieu
and mindset of the eleventh Century. It needs to do it all over again after just
valuable resource for further reading see Ambrose Mong Ih-Ren OP, “The Liberal
Spirit of John Henry Newman”, Ecumenical
Trends, especially pp
last week’s Part One of this article, click HERE]
Timbs writes from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.