Monday, October 26, 2009

Benedict's Crozier: Staff or Spear? REVISED

Recent actions by Pope Benedict raise the question for me -- is his papal crozier primarily a staff for the prodding of sheep, or a trident for the spearing of fish? He certainly is leaning in a strongly tridentine direction these days. [ed. note: The Council of Trent was the harsh anti-protestant response of the Roman Catholic Church, and the form of the mass which was established at Trent is called the 'Tridentine Mass.']

Indeed, it appears to be exactly the kind of left-handed spear toss that this pope has been practicing for decades, at least since his time as Grand Inquisitor of the Roman Catholic Church (yes, he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which until 1965 had the name, 'Holy Office of the Inquisition.') Of course, this spear has three points, and only the first strikes at Rowan Williams. The second tine jabs at all Anglicans who cherish the reforms that occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries, including our restoration of early catholic models of authority in which the bishops of the church were collegial brethren, and the other orders of the church had a degree of shared authority in their representation at church councils. ('Conciliarism') And the third barb cuts back upon at those in the Roman Catholic Church who actually appreciated the movements developed at the Second Vatican Council, and have lamented the backward-movement of the Roman Catholic Church's leadership under the influence of then Inquisitor, now Pope Benedict.

This is the same Pope, who just two years ago on his own initiative (motu proprio) issued a decree allowing the Latin Mass to be used by any priest who wants to do so, following a minimum of criteria. The purported motivation behind the decision was the pope's desire to reconcile with those traditionalist Roman Catholics who did not approve of the changes to the liturgy and theology of the church coming about in Vatican II. This was the same purported motivation behind the pope's decision earlier this year to restore to communion to several extremely conservative Roman bishops -- including Richard Williamson. Williamson, for those who don't remember, has actively denied the Holocaust. These chaps had originally been excommunicated for their involvement with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the founder of the Society of Pius X, a rabid critic of Vatican II and its changes in Roman Catholicism. Lefebvre was also, by the way, a supporter of the Nazi-friendly Vichy government, and the fascist regimes of Franco and Pinochet.

The pope's decision to allow the Tridentine mass and the reinstatement of the leading figures of anti-Vatican II Roman Catholicism back into the fold may also be seen to be theologically and ecclesiologically connected to his decision to receive disgruntled Anglican clergy and laity into the Roman Catholic Church via the creation of personal ordinariates. The connection consists of Benedict's long-held antipathy for the conciliar/collegial vision of authority pointed to by Vatican II -- and his long-held preference for the supremacy of papal authority. Benedict is the chief architect of the re-emphasis of central papal authority.

The debate between Cardinal Kasper and then Cardinal Ratzinger over the relationship between local and universal church -- between local bishop and pope -- which occurred some ten years ago -- has clearly been decided in the election of Ratzinger to the throne. He is simply enforcing his top-down, centralized model of imperial authority for the papacy that Kasper and Vatican II opposed. Father Hans Kung, the famous Swiss Roman Catholic theologian and professor who openly repudiated papal infallibility in 1971, and was stripped of his authority to teach doctrine by the Vatican in 1979, writes in the Guardian (UK):
Pope Benedict is set upon restoring the Roman imperium. He makes no concessions to the Anglican communion. On the contrary, he wants to preserve the medieval, centralistic Roman system for all ages – even if this makes impossible the reconciliation of the Christian churches in fundamental questions.
The relationship between the authority of the papacy to the authority of the bishop's of local churches shared by Pope Benedict XVI is as follows: The Fullness of Church Authority reside in the Pope; the province/archdiocese/diocese is under the authority of the Pope; the province/archdiocese/diocese's own particulars are far less important than the universals of the whole church; therefore the Pope should tell the local churches what and how to do; their input is of minimal importance.

Of course all of this goes quite against what Anglicanism is essentially all about -- which is to say collegiality, subsidiarity, and conciliarism. In this model, the authority of Jesus Christ resides in all the members of His Body, but each order within the body is called to different ministries -- some with a greater degree of oversight than others, but none with supreme authority. Conciliarism holds that church councils (sometimes called conventions, synods, or even vestries in a sense) share the authority of God by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when we meet together as representative leaders of the Body of Christ. Roman church imperialism says, no, the authority of God in Christ has been given to the pope.

Indeed, the best thing about the recent actions from the Vatican is that it reminds me how glad I am that the English Church experienced the Reformation in the 1500s, and that bad old Henry VIII may have done us a favor.


  1. Father,

    I think time will tell. Perhaps reports in certain circles about the collapse of the Anglican Communion are premature, but it's hard not to view the current Covenant as both a break with tradition and a collaboration (with all the associations that word entails) with the spirit of the age.


  2. It seems to me there is a bit of hyperbole in Fr. Jones' blog on the Vatican's recent invitation to the Anglican Communion. To begin with, I have doubts that what Benedict is doing is in any way inconsistent with Vatican II or Cardinal Kaspar as he presently is addressing the issues. Although Vatican II did specifically embrace and announce more publicly the role of the laity in the Catholic Church--and various changes in liturgy flowed from that--I pause at any idea it served to undercut the pontiff's authority, especially in the Latin Rite Church. I also don't recall that Vatican II spoke of conciliarism as the new way to go, although it did reinforce traditional roles of bishops being the shepards of their flocks--still responsible to the archbishop and the Vatican though--certianly on matters of teaching the faith and morals.

    Bringing back Latin as an option does not a new arbitrary rule make. It is not a binding pronouncement and if it does serve to placate some of the Catholic members who miss the Tridentine Missal, I get the feeling he is not unhappy with that as he wants to see more of the flock return to Rome. Should not all pontiffs desire "that they be one" if they are true to their calling as the successor of Peter?

    The Jewish question is fraught with so much baggage--much of it media loaded--that it is a trap for many an unwary person. Even with the Latin mass restored, the Vatican has worked long and hard with our Jewish brethren in this regard and that issue has been (mostly) smoothed over--or at least to the satisfaction of the press. Oh well, at the end of the day, I don't think it will make much of a difference to either Anglicans or Catholics. The question really boils down to what TEC wants to do (in this country). Does she wish to enter the Covenant arrangement? Does she want to go it alone and embrace her more Protestant side (but with the trappings of Catholic hierarchy and theology--but only to a point)? It will be interesting to see what happens.

  3. My take on this entire subject is that this has nothing to do with Roman hierarchy or Roman theology and everything to do with pilfering TEC flock. The hubris exposed by the mere tactics at what happened are shocking. If I were a Roman Catholic (which I am not), I would be aghast at my church for employing a rabbit-punch ethic in extending a supposed hand to those disenfranchised TEC'ers.

    Let's not forget to whom they are attempting to appeal: The extreme fundamentalists from with TEC. Some on here may refer to them with kinder words or more generalized references, but that is who they are.

    Second, let's not for a minute suppose that the Holy See, in so doing, has moved in any conciliatory direction whatsoever; it hasn't.

    Third, let not forget that there (was) an ongoing and what I thought very productive dialogue as between Rome and the Anglicans. Even Rome seems to have been surprised by this move.

    Finally, if the Roman Catholic church is interested in moving toward a more people-friendly and welcoming communion, it must first remove the shackles of fundamentalism and reacquaint itself with a social gospel (starting first with the removal of its most insane theological stance with respect to sub-Saharan Africa and condom use/HIV prevention).

    Sorry to sound so harsh, but this truly is bewildering and anyone who tries to dismiss it as this or that based upon innocuous theological reasoning is merely dizzy from Rome's hyperbole.

  4. Centrist is onto something. It makes sense that Benedict is acting out of a larger movement that predates the current tempest in the Anglican teapot. It makes sense that Benedict doesn't understand what he is messing with but instead glosses every complication -- like the impact had on current RC converts from Anglicanism by allowing this new wave of married clergy under Anglican uses into Roman orders en masse -- with the brush of non-collegial/papal authority. It makes sense that another shoe or two will drop with papal presumptions as the active principle.
    Yours are good insights worthy of extended consideration.