Does the Church equal the pope,
and the pope equal the Church?
From Papal Power by Paul Collins
Harper Collins 1997, pp 1-32.
Published on our website with the author's permission
The problem of papalism: the identification of Church and pope
I have lost count of the number of times I have been told, both in private and in the media, that if I cannot agree with what the pope says 'I should get out of the Church.' A year or so ago the host of a radio program, who sees himself as very well informed, told me during a discussion about the ethics of contraception that if I could not keep the rules of the club as voiced by the pope then I should leave the Church. It was useless trying to explain that the parallel between club and Church was spuriousit is amazing how fundamentalist secular sophisticates can be! Recently a rather serious Protestant journalist told me that she could not understand how Catholics who disagreed with the pope could remain in the Church 'in good faith.'
It is exceptionally difficult to move people, from both within and outside the Church, beyond this naive identification of the pope and Catholicism. The two have become so intertwined in the popular mind that every papal statement is seen to be absolute law for every Catholic. Papal statements, from mere speeches to encyclicals, have taken on oracular status; ordinary, day-to-day magisterium (teaching) and infallibility have become conflated in the popular mind. Indeed, the very thing that the minority of bishops feared at the First Vatican Council (1869-1870)which defined papal infallibilityhas become reality: everything that the pope says is infallible and to remain a loyal Catholic you must accept it all. Pope and Church are one and the same, and the Bishop of Rome has become a papal oracle. The fact is that, as we approach the third millennium of Christianity, the papacy has emerged as the Catholic Church's major internal structural problem. It has become a stumbling block to many, both inside and outside the Church.
The papacy is one of the greatest historical institutions, and is certainly the most enduring in the European experience. Yet in the course of its long history, the papacy has become increasing problematic for the very institution in which it has such a pivotal rolethe Church itself. Instead of being the center of the Church's unity and communion, it has become a divisive force that cuts Catholic off from Catholic. Instead of being the locus where different cultures interact and learn from each other as they draw on a common tradition and history that reaches back two millennia, it has become more self-engrossed and culturally circumscribed than ever. The irony is that there is multicultural window-dressing, such as the employment of clergymen of varying nationalities (and abilities) in the Roman curia, but these people are often more Roman than the Romans. And they would not be in the Vatican if they did not follow the curial line fully.
Instead of drawing its teaching on faith and morality from the deep and broad Catholic tradition, the papacy has increasingly espoused a parochial moralsm and a historically superficial scholastic theology that draws little from the contemporary world and has scarcely anything to say to it. Recent papal and curial utterances sound increasingly sectarian and apocalyptic, couched in a language and rhetoric that is simply meaningless to most people. Instead of being the institution that crosses cultural divides, the papacy has lost the sense of being a bridge builder. The pope is often called 'Pontiff,' which is derived from pontifex which, in turn, comes from pons facere to build a bridge.(1) But the modern papacy has become the mouthpiece of an increasingly narrow orthodoxy. The sad thing is that this has happened at the very time when the majority of Catholics live in the developing world.
The whole ecclesiastical malaise can be summed up in one word: papalism. This neologism describes the constant movement toward centralization, bureaucratic control, and a narrow orthodoxy that has characterized the activities of the papacy and the Roman curia over the last two centuries, especially since the definition of papal infallibility and primacy at the First Vatican Council in 1870. Following this Council there has been an ever-escalating tendency to conflate what Vatican I called 'ordinary magisteriurn'the day-to-day teaching and advice of the pope on belief and moralswith infallibility. In fact, the Italian historian Giuseppe Alberigo argues that the papacy unconsciously compensated itself for the final loss of the Papal States to a unified Italy in 1870 by transferring its energy into the business of the daily moral and religious government of the lives of Catholics:
[The Roman authorities] were pursuing a fundamentally consistent decision ... to transfer the axis of church government to the doctrinal domain by using [their] delicate and highly sensitive authority to determine conformity to the doctrinal content of the Gospel as an everyday instrument of regulating the life of the ecclesial community.(2)
In the process of doing this the papacy gradually attempted to muzzle all other magisterial (or teaching) sources in the Church and to subsume the entire theological function to itself. As a result the papacy since 1870 has come to act as a kind of ecclesiastical oracle, the assumed source of all wisdom and truth in the Church. This is a distortion of the true Catholic tradition.
I define papalism as the conflation of all teaching authority, with an exaggerated notion of primacy. In this context primacy is defined as the notion that the papacy owns and totally controls all the practical, aspects of the Church. This book is fundamentally about, how Catholicism can escape from papalism and how the Bishop of Rome can find his true role as the heart of the Church and the center of its communion. But in order to jettison papalism the pope is going to have to rediscover another of his titles: servus servorum Deithe servant of the servants of God. As long as the pope and the Vatican see themselves in an authoritarian manner as the ''owners' of the Church, 'lock, stock, and barrel,' they are going to reinforce papalism. To achieve any reform in the papacy, the papacy itself will have to rediscover the notion of servant leadership that is so strong in the New Testament. According to John's Gospel, at the last supper Jesus took the drastic step of washing his disciples' feet to remind them of the central importance of service (13:120). So. too, the papacy needs to rediscover that its leadership is one of service, not of domination. It needs to take to heart the advice of the first pope, Peter, who told Church leaders not to "lord it over' those in care, but to act with 'humility' (1 Peter 5:3-5). Humility must be sorely tried when you are a papal superstar!
In the process of the papacy recovering the New Testament idea of servant leadership, the Roman curia will have to be either radically recast, or abolished. It is simply not structured to act in a collegial way. Pope Paul VI tinkered with reform in the 1970s and attempted to internationalize its personnel, but this has done nothing to change its attitudes. In its present form the curia seems to be now beyond reformation. Views like this were stated as long ago as the second session (1963) of the Second Vatican Council; we will explore this further later in the book (pp. 74-85).
The need to distribute power throughout the Church
I have always believed in honestly putting my own cards on the table. This book is directed against papalism and what 1 believe is an increasing abuse of papal authority in the Church. In my view the present-day Catholic Church is quite unbalanced. In the contemporary Church there is the overwhelming authority of the pope, with, in practical terms, no compensating or balancing centers of power. This papal dominance is enhanced by the superstar status of Pope John Paul II. This unbalanced state is not John Paul's invention; it goes back immediately to the nineteenth century and remotely well beyond that. For the health and future of the Church, this lack of balance must be addressed. Those who should be confronting this issuethe bishops and theologianshave failed. So it. is left to people like me to tackle the issue.
Theology provides many insights to help us, but I have become increasingly disillusioned by the timid approach taken by most theologians to the present state of the Church. After he left the priesthood in 1967. Charles Davis made a comment that. I think remains true:
Our age ... is characterised by an escape into theology ... [Today we] are dazzled by what is fundamentally an uncommitted theology, deluged with a spate of theological ideas that are not thought through consistently to their ecclesiastical, social and political consequences.'(3)
All of the scriptural, historical, and theological approaches needed for a new approach to authority in the Church have already been articulated, but theologians seem hesitant to draw the 'ecclesiastical, social and political consequences' from the material they articulate. Part of this is an understandable academic reticence, but there is also a sense in which the intellectual leadership of the Church has let us down. So it is left to non-theologians such as myself to attempt to spell out the results of the historical and theological material that is readily available.
My training is in history and I approach all of the issues canvassed in this book from a historical and practical perspective. My questions are: How will this or that insight help us deal with the pressing contemporary crisis of authority and leadership in the Church? And what are the consequences for the Church in the real world? The whole purpose of a historical approach is to broaden our perspectives so that we do not become the prisoners of the present. History helps us see how we got to where we are now, and it. frees us to make our own choices, just as people did in the past. The fundamental questions that confront us in the Church today center on leadership, authority, and power. These are all volatile issues and they will not be solved easily.
I have the impression that right now the Church in many Western countries is floundering, without any sense of direction for the future. So someone needs to suggest some priorities, however tentative, for the coming decade. At present there is also a palpable sense of fear abroad in Catholicism that, is very debilitating. The superstar status of the present pope so dominates the Catholic stage that others with leadership roles or potential are either hidden or keeping their heads down. To speak out requires courage, and so perhaps it is best that those of us with nothing to lose in terms of theological reputation are the ones to do it. Our present state of fearful inertia is in sharp contrast to the outspokenness of many at Vatican II. There is a real sense in which we need to be reinvigorated by the straight-talk of many at that Council.
The attack on papalism at Vatican II
There was deep suspicion of the Roman curia and its minions at Vatican II (1962-1965), as they tried to manipulate the Council and limit its freedom. There were calls from very senior members of the Church, such as the Melchite Patriarch, Maximos IV Saigh of Antioch, and Cardinal Josef Frings of Cologne, for a thoroughgoing reform of the curia. The context of the call For reform was the discussion of the role of bishops during debate on the schema on the Church, prepared under the control of the Holy Office (formerly the Roman Inquisition and now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or CDF) and the curial cardinal, Alfredo Ottaviani. This schema reflected the absolute unwillingness of the curralists and their allies to entertain any idea of collegiality in the government of the Church. Speaking in French, rather than Latin, on 6 November 1963, Patriarch Maxinios called for the establishment of a permanent synod (which he called a 'supreme Sacred College") that would represent the whole Church. In calling his proposed synod a 'supreme Sacred College' he was being ironic: the Holy Office was the only 'supreme' congregation in the curia, and the college of cardinals (which Maximos. as an Eastern Patriarch, had three times refused to join) saw itself as a kind of papal senate. He said bluntly:
All the Roman offices should be subjected to this supreme Sacred College. These [Roman] ministries have no right to block all progress in a uniform and sometimes niggling manner. Moreover, the problems proper to each country should be resolved in those countries. The pope cannot rule the Church with the advice of his familiars alone. The Church was given to Peter and the apostles, not to the Curia. These reforms are urgent. Otherwise we will be courting catastrophe."(4)
Speaking in the same debate. Cardinal Frings of Cologne, in what seemed like a throwaway remark, said:
Let us riot confuse administrative and juridical procedures. This distinction holds for the Holy Office., whose methods are out of harmony with modern times and are a cause of scandal in the world ... No one ought to be judged and condemned without, having been heard, without knowing what he is accused of. and without the opportunity of correcting his views.'(5)
Naturally enough there was a strong reply from Ottaviani. who said that to attack the Holy Office was a direct insult to the pope. Support for the curial opposition to collegiality came also from Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who, as the leader of the extreme reactionaries, was later to break with Rome and die an excommunicated schismatic.
Two things are significant in this discussion at. Vatican II. Firstly, the Holy Office may have changed its name, but the ideology underpinning it has survived. It has certainly riot changed its methods. It still accepts anonymous accusations, hardly ever deals directly with the person accused, demands retractions and imposes silences, and continues to employ third-rate theologians as its assessors. This body has no place in the contemporary Church. It is irreformable and therefore should be abolished. I highlight it not because it is significant in itself, but because it is symptomatic of much of the Roman curia. This body exists to prop up papalism. The curia shows little or no consciousness of the wider Church, and no understanding of contemporary reality of the world, and is blindly but profoundly self-interested. It exists to serve papal power, not the ministry of the Church.
Secondly, and more importantly, the notion of the collegiality of the bishops with the pope in governing the Church was quickly quashed after Vatican IT. Richard McBrien defines collegiality as:
The principle that the Church is a communion (college) of local churches which together constitute the Church universal. In practice, collegiality introduces a mode of decision-making in the Church which emphasizes coresponsibility among the bishops expressed in ecumenical councils, synods, and episcopal conferences.(6)
Although it is set out clearly as part of the constitution of the Church in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium (nn. 22-23), collegiality was only half-heartedly supported by Paul VI and strongly opposed by many in the curia. Yet the doctrine of collegiality is the revival of a Church teaching with profound traditional and historical roots. Interestingly, the curia (and specifically the CDF) has no such traditional historical roots, as both the present-day curia and the Inquisition are products of sixteenth-century rejigging of the Roman bureaucracy. This is very recent by Roman standards!
Little has changed in the attitudes of the curia in the thirty years since Vatican II. Under John Paul II the Synod of Bishops has simply become a rubber stamp for his own views. Also, the present head of the CDF, the German Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, has consistently questioned the theological status of local and national episcopal conferences. He maintains that Rome wants to deal with individual bishops. Of course it does; a single bishop facing the curia on his own has much less clout than a national episcopal conference. But it is these conferences that make collegiality a reality. We need to consider seriously if there is any real need for the cumbersome curial bureaucracy that, as we shall see, has developed extraordinarily since the 1960s. It simply reinforces papalism. The most that the pope really needs is a small secretariat.
Besides radically reordering the curia, papalism could also be challenged if the electoral constituency for papal appointments was widened from the college of cardinals, as now constituted, to elected representatives of bishops, priests, and laity, so that a broader cross-section of the Church would have a say in who is pope. But, above all, papal attitudes will have to change so that the pope sees himself, and is seen by others., not as the Church incorporated, but as its servant, its leader, and the focus of its unity.
The need to confront papalism
The time has come, I believe, for those of us who have a deep belief in the genuine Catholic tradition to speak out about the distortions of theology and belief that are found in contemporary papalism. This is not an expression of disloyalty or a lack of faith in the Church, but a reassertion of the genuine Catholic tradition, a determination to draw on as much of the rich and multi-faceted past as is possible. It is only when Catholics have integrated the wealth of their history that they will be able, with confidence, to face the actual reality of the present and the possibility of the future with creative confidence and flexibility. Those who take refuge in the past keep repeating it. At the end of the twentieth century the papalist ideology still lives on, drawing its inspiration largely from the ideas and faith-formulas of the world of the nineteenth century. In the words of Marshall McLuhan, it drives into the future looking through the rear-view mirror! And still more worrying is that the rear-view mirror gives such a circumscribed vision of what actually went on in the past.
By definition the person who lives in the past is a reactionary. Reactionaries should not be confused with genuine conservatives, who actually believe in the conservation of all that has value from the past. Papalism is not a conservative movement; it is essentially reactionary. To speak against such a powerful institution is, of course, a risky undertaking for a Catholic. The Vatican is notoriously self-protective, and vindictive toward those who criticize it and. as we shall see many in the recent past have suffered at its hands. But for those of us who value the breadth, complexity, and subtlety of the Catholic tradition there is increasingly no other option but to speak out. Of course, the papacy is an important part of the tradition that we value, but in recent history papalism has pushed itself so much into the foreground that it has almost totally obscured the broad experience of faith that lies behind it.
For many today, both inside and outside the Church, the simple equation that the pope equals the Church is truth. But the Church historian, especially, has a peculiar responsibility to confront the historical amnesia embedded in this view. As a Catholic it seems to me that I have an obligation to speak against papalism, both on my own behalf and for that large number of Catholics who instinctively and intuitively identify with the long experience of the Church, with its symbols and sacraments, with its tradition of belief in the transcendent presence of Cod in the world, and its broad appreciation of the value of thought and reason as it struggles to understand and articulate the meaning of our human existence and of our relationship to the natural world. It is sad to sec that so many Catholics of good will are alienated and marginalized as a result of the narrow scholasticism and the repressive moralism that characterizes so much papal teaching. Many Catholics, other Christians, and people interested in basic human issues are repelled by the cult of the papal personality, the secretive viciousness of the Roman curia, and the fear and toadyism that characterizes so many in the ecclesiastical hierarchy today.
The origins of the problem
Problems with the papacy are not new for Catholicism. In one form or another they have troubled the Church for the last thousand years. But the highly centralized structure of the contemporary papacy has no real historical precedent. As we shall see., it is only since the early nineteenth century that all of the usual limitations on papal power in the Church have been eliminated or have disappeared. This is why the pressure on contemporary theologians is so great; they are the last group if one can call them a 'group'who act as independent thinkers, I am not asserting that there has been some conscious decision on the part of the papacy to impose itself completely on the Church. Rather, I am saying that it has been part of the historical process, especially since that low point in papal history, the French Revolution of 1789 and the Napoleonic Wars that followed.
Peace returned to Europe in 1815 after twenty-six years of turmoil. But the actual state of Europe in 1815 was very different from what it was in 1789. The ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity were abroad and what was later in the century to be summed up as 'liberalism' had gained the ascendancy with the bourgeoisie. While many of the kings and traditional rulers returned, and while some pretended that the clock could be turned back to the days before 1789, the reality was different. The tide had turned toward liberalism and the rulers of Europe were going to have to adjust. However, a different view was held in the papal court. Here, partly as a result of Popes Pius VI and Pius VII and a number of cardinals having been imprisoned by the forces of the Revolution and Napoleon, an intransigent and reactionary attitude prevailed. This did not happen without a struggle, but eventually the 'Zelanti' cardinals carried the day. These were the religious zealots who were to turn the papacy back in on itself. To what purpose? Basically in order to protect the Church's power in the Papal States.(7)
So papalism is not the fault of any one pope. As 1 said, it has been developing for many centuries and is an inevitable consequence of the 'hierarchicalization of the Church. Its contemporary expression has been evolving over the last one hundred and eighty years. Since 1815, papal centralism has grown apace, and modern transportation and communication have made it possible for papal pretensions about centralized power to become a reality. The result is that John Paul II is. in fact, the most powerful pope in history. This is as much the result of what has happened in the Church since 1815 as it is the consequence of his personal style, travel, and theological agenda, and the fact that, as one of the most well-known people alive, he is a media superstar. It is precisely at this peak point of papal power that the ideology underpinning it needs to be challenged. Church history provides us with a way to do this.
I am a firm believer in the power of understanding. If we know how we got to where we are, we will have the potential to move forward in a creative and imaginative way. We will be able to see our experience and beliefs in perspective. History is ultimately liberating. However, the ideology that at present underpins contemporary papalism is profoundly suspicious of history. The paradox is that while this ideology pretends to be traditional, it is actually deeply ambivalent about history. Tradition is the living expression of history: it makes sense only within a historical context. But papalism has no sense of history. It holds the view that there are permanent and never-changing absolutes, and such a mindset stymies its ability to comprehend the evolution and development not just of the Church s belief, but also of its structure and experience.
The actual authority and influence of the papacy in the Churchand in the worldhas ebbed and flowed throughout its two-thousand-year history. The greatest of the medieval popes, such as Gregory VII (1073-1085)(8) in the Dictatus Papae of 1075, Innocent III (1198-1216), and Boniface VIII (1294-1303) in the bull Unam sanctum (1302), claimed that papal power was divine in origin and was superior to any other power in the world. In fact, Innocent thought he was the spiritual monarch of Europe and king of the world, although his actual power was circumscribed by the difficulty of projecting papal power beyond his immediate geographical circumstances. Because of the limitations of transport and communication, medieval papal pretensions had to be squared with geopolitical reality.
John Paul II and modern papalism
No such geographical limits constrain John Paul II. The papacy now seems omnipresent, and the dominant and powerful personality of the Polish pope has stamped the institutional Church in a way that no other pope has managed to achieve for many centuries.(9) This has been reinforced by the length of his pontificate (he was elected in 1978). In both his longevity and his influence he very much resembles Pius IX (1846-1878). John Paul's personality and agenda gives the equation 'pope equals Church' wide credibility. The fact that it is a gross distortion does not prevent this papalist ideology spreading even among those in the Church who should know better.
An entirely new phenomenon has arisen in the Churchthe omnipresent papacy. This has been created by the speed of modern travel and by the media, especially television. John Paul II has exploited these possibilities to the full. Previous popes have claimed a universal jurisdiction and pastorate; John Paul II has made it a reality. This can be expressed in simple geographic terms: for instance, between late 1978 and the beginning of 1994, he had made sixty-two foreign 'pastoral visits,' nearly all of them taking in a number of countries. It is hard to find a country that John Paul has not visited, and he has been to most major countries several times.(10) What is the purpose of these visits? The pope has said that they are to strengthen the faith of the local church and to be a visible symbol of the unity of the Church. They are also part of his view of his ministry as a kind of 'universal catechist.'
lThere are clear differences between trips to developed countries and those to the third world: in the former the emphasis is on both large crowds and the media., particularly television. In the latter the stress is on mass gatherings of people. But the core agenda is always the same: the pope must be at center stage. It is he who has the message to be proclaimed and it is clear that Rome thinks that he has nothing to learn from the local church.
The peripatetic John Paul II leaves me with a deep sense of uneasiness. This is not because I think that these pastoral visits will particularly change the local churches, or local people. But the tours and the constant highlighting of the pope on television effect a shift at a deeper level of perception: they change the image of the papacy by making the pope seem to be personally present. People see him, especially on television, as an accessible, human figure, no longer remote like the 'quasi-divine' Pius XII, but a man of the people. The illusion is that you can reach out to touch him. Because of his ability to communicate, many participants in papal ceremonies, or viewers of the pope on television, feel an intimacy with John Paul. As well as creating a false sense of intimacy, television also creates a situation in which images are more important than reality. A critical regression occurs in which complex realities are reduced to simplistic images and slogans. Television evangelists trade on this constantly. An unreality creeps in wherein viewers believe that the image conveys the truth; so as long as the pope is the only face of the Church on the screen, the equation that the pope equals the Church gains ground. Papalism is reinforced by the relationship between a high-profile papacy and the media. The pope is present, in a way that the bishop and other local church leadership is not. Also television thrives on the personality, the lively, animated person who keeps the show moving. So the focus is on John Paul alone. National church leadership, the bishops, and local communities disappear from view.
John Paul II has given a new lease of life to the papal monarchy. In times of uncertainty and shifting values many people search for the simple answer and authoritative certainty. A papal monarch can provide this. Because of his role, it is always the pope who is highlighted; he is the world evangelist. The ministries of others pale into insignificance beside his. As he is a populist leader, his lifeblood seems to be enormous crowds. But there is a danger built into this style. It can so easily create a messianic personality cult, a form of manipulative demagoguery. It is precisely for this reason that Jesus seems so careful to avoid allowing himself to be called messiah. While he was surrounded by crowds, he was constantly on his guard against the cult of personality. He always pointed beyond himself to the God who sent him.
In all of this, collegiality has been pushed into the background. It is the world captain, not the local team, that is highlighted. Local bishops look like papal acolytes in purple. A strong focus on Roman leadership inevitably weakens local leadership. If these pastoral visits of the pope were more low-key and less expensive, they might be very helpful to the local church. This would be especially true if John Paul came, listened critically to the local leadership, and, after dialogue, reinforced the efforts of Catholics to confront local realities. This would be, in the truest sense, a ministry of unity as the center strengthened and confirmed the work of the local church. But that is not the way it happens. Rather, the powerful figure of John Paul jets in from outside to dominate center stage for a brief time, delivers his message (frequently developed with some local consultation), and then leaves. The way in which the tours are organized actually prevents the possibility of input during the visit. Any local participation is vetted well in advance. The sheer length and speed of the trips does not allow any time for discussion, let alone a chance to stop and experience the indigenous church, environment, and culture. One can admire the pope's stamina, but the purpose of the speed must be questioned. Is it to avoid having to hear the local people, to prevent the expression of agendas different from those of the Vatican? Moreover, national bishops' conferences are ignored.
Who will oppose papalism?
Even though bishops are the successors of the apostles, they in fact owe their appointment to the pope, or at least to that section of the Roman curia (the Congregation for Bishops) that makes episcopal appointments. By right their jurisdiction may be personal ('ordinary' as the jargon of canon law terms it), but de facto they are still very much the pope's men. and, because of the types of candidates appointed by Rome, this has become increasingly so during the pontificate of John Paul II. The Code of Canon Law says that 'A diocesan bishop ... possesses the ordinary, proper, and immediate power which is required for the exercise of his pastoral office" (can. 381.1)(11)However, it also makes it clear that Rome can limit this power and that it is exercised ''ad nutum Sanctae Sedis''subject to the nod of the Holy See.
Canons 375-380 of the Code set out the process by which bishops are appointed. Although it is not spelled out in canon law, the role of Rome and its nuncios and delegates in each country is absolutely central in the process of appointing bishops. They are the ones who draw up lists of possible candidates for episcopal office and submit names to Rome. Even where there is a surviving practice that the canons (the senior priests) of the cathedral chapter have a right to nominate the list of possible candidates to be submitted to Rome (as is the case in Switzerland and Austria), this has often been ignored and reactionary bishops, such as Bishop Wolfgang Hass in Chur (which takes in Zurich), and Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer in Vienna, have been forced on dioceses with disastrous results. (Cardinal Groer has since been forced to resign amid allegations of sexual misconduct.) And Rome can depose bishops, as the outspoken Bishop Jacques Gaillot of Evreux in France recently found out. With some courageous exceptions, one cannot expect much opposition to papalisrn from the ranks of the bishops.
That is why the role of theologians is so important. For the fact is that they have some independence, especially if they work within the context of state universities that are not dependent on the Roman curia. Also, if they are members of religious orders and have the support of their superiors, they can take advantage of the fact that they belong to semi-independent units within the Church. If they are laypeople they have even more independence. In fact, one of the most creative and important developments of recent times has been the training of an increasing number of lay theologians.
Because of their apparent independence there has been enormous pressure put on theologians by the Vatican during the present pontificate. In fact, as we shall see, a considerable number have been isolated, and then in an attempt to destroy their influence they are removed from any official role, such as teaching, and pushed to the margins of the Church. This is generally done in ways that lack even basic charity and respect. In the papalist ideology theologians are not the explorers at the interface between contemporary culture and the transcendent, but their task is apologetic: that is. to be apologists for the official line proposed by pope and curia.
Traditionally, there have been three magisteria (or teaching authorities) in the Church. In historical order, the episcopal magisterium developed first. It is exercised at its highest level by bishops acting together in a synod or an ecumenical council. Almost coterminous with the development of the episcopal magisterium was the role of theologians. The task of the theologian is to contribute to the teaching mission of the Church by scholarly competence. Historically, the papal magisterium developed somewhat later. The context of all teaching authority is the sensus fidelium. This 'sense of the faithful' is difficult to define precisely, but it refers to the actual acceptance of beliefs by Christians down through the centuries. It is linked to the doctrine of reception, which holds that if the Christian community accepts a teaching then that teaching is confirmed. If the teaching is not received, then it can be said that it is not the teaching of the Church. Yet in recent Church historywith the exception of the periods of the two most recent councils, Vatican I (1869-1870) and Vatican II (1962-1965)the papal magisterium has seemingly tried to subsume the roles of both bishops and theologians. One of the characteristics of papalism is to conflate all the magisteria, to subsume them into the papal magisterium, and to extend to the Roman curia itself a share in the pope's teaching authority.
The attempt to destroy traditional speculative theology
The relationship between the Vatican and speculative
theology over the last one hundred and eighty years has usually been a fraught
one. This is especially true of those theologians who have tried to move the
Church beyond accepted establishment positions. The reason for this is quite
simple: the papacy has been determined to bring theology under its control and
the best way to achieve this is to maintain the status quo. There have., of
course, been discussions and statements throughout this period by both the
official magisterium and theologians about their respective roles and the
relationship of the papacy to theology. The most recent of these is the
Instruction on theEcclesial Vocation of the Theologian (24 May
1990)(12)signed by-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger. head of the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). It is significant that it is signed by someone who
himself has practiced as a theologian and who, at first sight, seems to have
taken a more open-minded approach.
The Ratzinger Instruction appears to have much to recommend it: there is a clear acknowledgment of the cultural context (including philosophy, history, and even the 'human sciences') within which all theological work occurs, and it recommends the value of 'freedom of research':
Freedom of research, which the academic community rightly holds most precious, means an openness to accepting the truth that emerges at the end of an investigation in which no element has intruded that is foreign to the methodology corresponding to the object under study.(13)
But this freedom is immediately limited by the obligation to present doctrine with integrity and accuracy. The Instruction argues that the papal magisterium alone is the source of this. And when the rnagisterium speaks 'in a definitive way' the theologian, despite his or her much vaunted 'freedom of research,' must firmly accept and hold these teachings, even if they "are not divinely revealed [but] are nevertheless strictly and intimately connected with revelation.' They must respond with 'religious submission of will and intellect' even when the magisterium does not act 'definitively.(14)In case the theologian thought that they might get away with an outward show of submission. Ratzinger's Instruction insists that the response 'cannot be simply exterior or disciplinary' The consequence of this is that even when the papal magisterium (that is, pope and curia) is not teaching infallibly, or even when the teaching is clearly an exercise of the ordinary magisterium. 'submission of will and intellect' is required.
So much for freedom of research! 'Truth,' according to Ratzinger, is the final arbiter, but it is 'truth' as defined by the papal magisterium. He admits that the Vatican's 'truth' can reflect a particular school of theology, but anything the magisterium says has 'a validity beyond its argumentation.' Seemingly this means that whatever the pope or curia says is the truth' (at least provisionally), no matter how badly argued or how contrary to historical i'act. The Instruction explicitly denies that there is a theological magisterium and it comes close to denying the sensus fidei of believers. In the Ratzinger document how contrary to historical fact. The Instruction explicitly denies that there is a theological magisterium and it comes close to denying the sensus fidei of believers. In the Ratzinger document there is a conflation of the papal magisterium and the curial 'magisterium' (especially that of the CDF) and both are equally binding on theologians and believers.(15)
When viewed within the broader historical context of the Church's tradition. Ratzinger's Instruction is a remarkable document. It expresses directly and without equivocation the papalist ideology on the role of theology and, as such, is an explicit denial of the long-held tradition in the Church of the role of the theologian and the believing community in the process of discerning and developing the Church's teaching. It also effectively destroys theology as a discipline. No longer is the theologian judged by peers and by the acceptance of the believing community. The papacy alone is the judge of theological truth. The Instruction's rhetorical style is also very revealing: it is couched in a prissy style that resembles that of a headmaster lecturing his rather obtuse pupils on the subject of the 'school rules.'
The consequences of the Ratzinger Instruction became clear in the debate about the ordination of women, which has continued for over two decades. Given the pope's idiosyncratic personal views on the respective roles of women and men,(16) the notion of female ordination has obviously annoyed John Paul II. In order to remove all doubt on the subject, he declared in his Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis (22 May 1994) that 'the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful' (n. 4). This is clearly a strong statement, but is it an infallible declaration? Does it belong to the deposit of faith? According to a reply by Ratzinger's CDF (dated 28 October, 1995 and approved by the pope) to questions such as these, the teaching given in Ordinatio sacerdotalis 'has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium.'(17)The reply here refers to Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. Lumen Gentium (n. 25). This long section situates papal infallibility within the context of the teaching authority of the bishops, but there is no reference in this section to the term "ordinary and universal magisterium.'(18) Ratzinger also cites no evidence that the world's ishops have been consulted on this issue. Already a number of theologians have questioned both the pope and Ratzinger's grounds for claiming that this is part of the infallible magisterium. Francis A. Sullivan, author of the important study Magisterium has asked for evidence that the bishops and scholars of the Church have been consulted. Sullivan says that for something to be taught infallibly by the ordinary magisterium, what has 'to be clearly established is that the tradition has remained constant, and that even today the universal body of Catholic bishops is teaching the same doctrine as to be definitively held.'(20) He also says that the way in which you establish that a doctrine is taught by the ordinary magisterium is by consultation with the bishops, the establishment of the assent of theologians and acceptance of the doctrine by faithful Catholics.(21) Nicholas Lash has pointed out that there could hardly be universal consensus and common adherence since the question of the ordination of women has only been asked very recently.(22) He describes the invoking of infallibility as a 'quite scandalous abuse of power on the part of both the pope and Ratzinger.
This whole question is a vivid illustration of papalism in action. The idea that the popelet alone the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faithcan independently and without consultation of the bishops and the wider Church declare something to be 'infallibly' binding on Catholics simply does not square with the teaching of Vatican I. The pope and Ratzinger have turned what is simply a serious teaching of the pope (what Vatican I would call 'ordinary magisterium') into an 'infallible' teaching. This seems to me to border on heresy and be a denial of conciliar teaching.
Further, Ratzinger's Instruction makes it clear that the papalist ideology does not tolerate any alternative source of inspiration in the Church. In the process of controlling theology, the Vatican has not hesitated to attack some of the most intelligent and creative people in the Church, including some whose sanctity is undoubted. The treatment of theologians is in sharp contrast to that given to priests whose immoral and criminal actions have brought disgrace on the Catholic community. It is ironic that, at the same time as it censured theologians, the Vatican and the bishops did little or nothing to deal decisively with clerical child molesters, simply moving them on secretly from place to place, with hardly any disciplinary action and certainly no public rebuke for behavior that was profoundly contrary to both moral and civil lawbehavior that was far more destructive than 'temerarious opinions' that were really only offensive to the Roman censors. The reason why the 'sinner' priest could be absolved is that then the institutional Church could experience itself as forgiving and generous. But the Church had to be protected from intellectual 'deviants,' because their inquiries might upset and disturb the status quo. So the same Church authorities that cosseted the child molesters did not hesitate to attack publicly, and at times viciously and destructively, the reputations of some of the Church's most creative and devoted minds as they honestly tried to grapple with the profound theological problems involved in the interface between religion and life in the contemporary world.
The 'Affaire Lamennais'
There is nothing particularly new about the destructive treatment of the Church's most creative minds by its own authorities. The first major attack on a Catholic thinker in the period after 1815 occurred on 15 August 1832, in the encyclical Mirari vos of Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846).(23)In Mirari vos the views of a group of French Catholics who associated with the priest Felicite Robert de Lamennais (1782-1854) were condemned. The group included some of the most important French Catholics of the period, including Henri Lacordaire, Prosper Gueranger, and Charles de Montelambert. They argued that the Church must integrate into its life the principles of the French Revolution and the emerging liberal society. They argued that the essence of Christianity was freedom, which reached its fullest realization in political liberty. There are echoes of the condemnation of modern liberation theology in the Lamennais affair. Ironically, Lamennais was a strong ultramontane(24) and he looked to the pope to lead a crusade for liberty. There was something very naive about this group of French liberals. It is hard to understand how they could have expected the papacy, involved at that very time in suppressing liberalism in the Papal States, to have suddenly assumed the leadership of a crusade for freedom and liberalism.
The affair came to a head after the publication in 1829 of Lamennais' book Des progrès de la revolution, et de la guerre contre I'église. In the book he called for the Church to free itself from the monarchy, to abandon 'the degenerate and paltry scholasticism' that was taught in French seminaries, and to abandon its privileges and its bondage to the stateespecially the patronage of the restored Bourbon monarchy. Lamennais looked forward to the papacy leading a great crusade of freedom, a vain and illusory hope in the case of Gregory XVI, who was a reactionary curialist and before that a Camaldolese hermit. The papacy was strongly influenced by the French bishops, who fought a hard campaign in Rome to have Lamennais's views condemned. The irony was that many of these same French bishops were Gallicans. Expediency makes strange bedfellows: French Gallicans united in common cause with Italian curalists against French ultramontanes!
Mirari vos was Gregory XVI's response. In the encyclical, the pope condemned the 'evil-smelling spring of indifferentism' from which flowed:
the erroneous and absurd opinionor rather, derangementthat freedom of conscience must be asserted and vindicated for everybody. This most, pestilential error opens the door to the complete and immoderate liberty of opinions, which works such widespread harm both in church and state. Some people outrageously maintain that some advantage derives from it for religion.(25)
Lamennais and his group had been very successful in the publication of a daily Catholic newspaper in Paris. L'Avenir. So it was natural that Gregory XVI condemned freedom of the press as a 'deleterious liberty, which can never be execrated and detested sufficiently.'(26) The pope asserted that the early Christians showed 'fidelity to their rulers' and, as a result, 'divine and human law inveigh against those who attempt by the shameful machinations of rebellion and sedition to turn away subjects from fidelity to their rulers and to snatch the government from them.'(27) This was a blow for Polish Catholics, who had revolted against the oppressive Orthodox Czarist regime in 1830-1831. The Poles were told that the Russian regime had 'legitimate authority' and that obedience to the Czar was an 'absolute precept.'
It is worth asking, in the light of Cardinal Ratzinger's Instruction, whether all contemporary Catholics, especially theologians, must give full 'submission of will and intellect' to these statements of Gregory XVI. This issue is made even more ironic by the fact that these teachings of Gregory XVI are the opposite of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. The Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis humanae) directly contradicts Mirari vos.(28) Is this an example of a council correcting the papacy? Which teaching is right? How could something be so true that in 1832 Catholics such as Lamennais had to give full 'submission of will and intellect' to Gregory XVI's teaching, or else leave the Church, and yet so untrue that, the encyclical could be quietly dumped by Vatican II one hundred and thirty years later? Direct contradiction of a papal teaching little more than a century after it has been given cannot be a legitimate example of development of doctrine. Either Gregory XVI or Vatican II is right: Ratzinger cannot have it both ways. The whole problem is reinforced by the fact that Gregory's successor, Pius IX, in the Syllabus of Errors (8 December 1864) assured the world that the Roman Pontiff could not and ought not 'reconcile and adjust himself with progress, liberalism, and modern civilization.' Quanta cura,: the encyclical accompanying the Syllabus, seemed to make the list dogmatically binding. And this occurred exactly one hundred years before Vatican II debated the issue of religious liberty!
Gregory XVI demanded absolute submission from Lamennais. French ecclesiastical intrigues in Rome and Paris against him and the other liberal Catholics were persistent. Lamennais's book Paroles d'un croyant (1834) argued his case brilliantly against the abuses of liberty current in the Europe of his time. In the Paroles he applied biblical curses and imagery to contemporary rulers. The book is doctrinally orthodox, but he uses that orthodoxy to call down God's judgment on the oppressors of liberty. The critics of his own time fixed on his identification of liberty with the name of Christ and his incitement to disobey rulers who disobeyed the law of Goda perfectly licit Catholic position held also by the Spanish Jesuit theologian of the sixteenth century, Francisco de Suarez. Sadly, Lamennais ended his life outside the Church after further condemnation in the encyclical Singulari nos (25 June 1834), in which Gregory XVI described the Paroles as a book 'small in size but immense in its perversity.' Historian E. E. Y. Hales perceptively comments that Gregory XVI condemned Lamennais fundamentally because liberal principles could not be applied in the Papal States.(29) It was not until after the popes had lost the Papal States in 1870 that Rome became more indifferent to specific forms of government.
The Lamennais affair is important because if sets the pattern for the next century and a half for the fraught relationship between the papacy and the Church's most creative thinkers. This has lasted until our own time and was really only slightly interrupted by Vatican II The historian Giuseppe Alberigo has emphasized the programmatic significance of Mirari vos. Gregory XVI argued in the encyclical that the spiritual health of the age was so pathological that he must set aside Christian charity, indulgentiam benignitatis (the spirit of gentleness), and use the rod, virga compescere (the reference in the encyclical is to 1 Corinthians 4:21). In a significant explanation of the influence of this attitude on later papal policy, Alberigo points out that this negative attitude became a predominant aspect of the modem popes' approach to the world. Things were so bad that it was only through condemnation (that is, using the rod) that they could get their message across. This negative evaluation characterised papal policy for more than a century.(30)
The tension referred to here between the papacy and the modem age found its quintessential expression in attempts to control theology. The relationship between the two became especially tense after Vatican I. In this period the bureaucratic energies of the curia shifted inward toward more and more complete control of thinking in the Church. This came to a head in the so-called 'Modernist' crisis at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The Modernist crisis
Modernism is very difficult to define. But it caused terrible suffering to Catholic scholars at the beginning of the twentieth century. The papal condemnation of Modernism quickly developed into a witch-hunt. The word 'modernism' was used by Pius X (1903-1914) in the encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis (8 September 1907) to describe Catholic thinkers who, he claimed, 'present their doctrines without order and systematic arrangement, in a scattered and disjointed manner, so as to make it appear as if their minds were in doubt or hesitation, whereas in reality they are quite fixed and steadfast.'(31) These are thinkers who 'put themselves forward as reformers of the Church' but they are. in fact, 'thoroughly imbued with the poisonous doctrines taught by the enemies of the Church.'(32)The attribution of such perverse motivation to fellow Catholics is astonishing. Two months previously, in the decree Lamentabili, he had called Modernism a 'synthesis of all heresies,'
The facts are that the Modernist scholars actually called for freedom of inquiry; a new historical approach to the development of theology and doctrine; liberty to use the newly developed tools of literary and historical criticism, and to apply these to the Bible and Church history, especially the early period of the Church; and a more creative approach to the philosophy of religion and apologetics. Basically, the Modernists were a group of Catholic scholars, both lay and clerical, who tried to adopt contemporary scientific methods and apply them to Catholic thought. They realized that the Neo-Scholastic intellectualism of the Roman schools was totally insufficient to confront the philosophical questions of the day. especially as expressed in the anti-rational tendencies of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Bergson, and the evolutionism of Hegel, Spencer, and Darwin. They also saw that a new apologetic was needed, one derived not from Church dogma but from life itself.
The best known English-speaking Modernist was the Irish-born convert and Jesuit priest, George Tyrrell (1861-1909). His views have been seen by some as extreme, but in other ways he was a perceptive forerunner of Vatican 11. While some argue that the expulsion of Tyrrell from the Jesuits in 1906 can be understood in its context, (33) the attack on other scholars was totally unjustifiable. The French Catholic historian Louis Duchesne (1843-1922) was influenced by the German liberal Protestant historian, Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930). Duchesne's L'Histoire ancienne de L'Eglise chrétienne (three volumes, 1906-1910) was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books in 1912.(34) It is here that the imprecision of the use of the term 'modernism' by Pius X becomes clear. It is a catchall word and it is difficult to see why the work of such a fine scholar as Duchesne would be seen as Modernist. It is a symptom of papal paranoia that any work that suggested the idea of 'development' of doctrine and of Church structure was under suspicion. It also shows the fear of history implicit in the papalist ideology.
The heartland of Modernism was in biblical exegesis. Among liberal Protestant scholars in Germany in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries a new critical approach to the Bible (especially the Old Testament) had developed. They called into question traditional and literal interpretations of scripture. The areas of particular debate were the Pentateuch,(35) the theology of inspiration and the question of the inerrancy of scripture., and issues centering on the life and miracles of Jesus. Here the key modernist scholar was Alfred Loisy (1857-1940).(36) His starting point was that the biblical scholar must prescind completely from supernatural and dogmatic considerations; he argued that the Bible must be studied like any other historical document. Thus he indirectly called for the freeing of exegesis, historiography, and, ultimately, theology from the control of the magisterium. Dogmas, he maintained, were not truths fallen from heaven but rather, like the Church and revelation itself, they were subject to evolutionary development. Loisy's views became increasingly extreme, and he was excommunicated in 1908. He is perhaps the only person who could accurately be called a 'modernist' in the sense used by Pius X. But the work of other moderate Catholic biblical scholar's, such as M. J. Lagrange (1855-1938) and Giovanni Genocchi (1860-1926), got caught up in the general atmosphere of suspicion of all scripture study.
To understand the papal condemnation of Modernism and the treatment of those accused of being 'modernists.' it is important to realize that from the time of the election of Pius X to the papacy the situation quickly polarized. Roger Aubert says that Pius X 'instinctively mistrusted progressive endeavors' and that he turned away decisively from the policies of his predecessor, Leo XIII (1878-1903).37 To understand Modernism it is important to remember the polarization that had occurred within Catholic culture on two levels: firstly the divorce between Catholicism and modern culture, and secondly the divorce between Catholic liberals and Catholic reactionaries. As early as November 1903, the French philosopher Maurice Blondel was aware of the polarization:
With every day that passes, the conflict between tendencies which set Catholic against Catholic in every ordersocial, political, philosophicalis revealed as sharper and more general. One could almost say that there are now two quite incompatible ''catholic mentalities,' particularly in France:(38)
The whole thing was brought to a head by Pius X's encyclical Pascendi in 1907. The condemnation was reinforced by the 'Anti-modernist Oath' that all seminarians were required to take before ordination to major orders, all bishops before their ordination to the episcopate, and all priests and seminary teachers before taking up office.(39)
Modernism was seen by Rome as an insidious plot nurtured by the connections and correspondence that developed among the modernist group. This centered on the layman Baron Friedrich Von Hügel (1852-1925), who was in contact with all the leading Modernists. The condemnation led to what can only be described as a quite despicable campaign by elements in the curia to hunt down and root out all those suspected of 'modernism,' or even 'semi-modernism'! Often totally innocent scholars, such as Lagrange and Duchesne, were denounced and sacked from their teaching posts. Most of this integralist reaction centered on the shadowy figure of Monsignor Umberto Benigni (1862-1934). of the Papal Secretariat of State, and the small, secret organization that he set up. the Sodalitium Pianum(40) Through a clandestine network of denunciation and the planting of articles in right-wing publications attacking anyone the Sodalitium disapproved of, a climate of suspicion and fear was developed right under the nose of Pius X and his Secretary of State, Cardinal Raphael Merry del Val.
Although there was a reaction against integralism and the Sodalitium in the pontificate of Benedict XV (1914-1922), the fear of secret condemnation had crept into theology and it remained there until the 1940s. The focus of this fear was the so-called 'Holy Office,' which ironically had dropped the term 'inquisition' from its title in 1908. This congregation has been through two metamorphoses this century: established in 1542 and reformed in 1587, it entered the twentieth century as the Sacra Congregatio Romanae et Universalis Inquisitionis seu Sancti Offici (Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, or Holy Office). In 1913 it became the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, and in 1965 Paul VI re-formed it under the title Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). It imposed a narrow orthodoxy on the whole Church and its influence extended far beyond theology to a claim that it could judge every moral and religious issue considered by the Church. Alberigo argues that in setting up such a centralised bureaucracy, the papacy resembled the fascist states. It certainly reduced theological pluralism and suppressed minority opinion.(41)
Seemingly the papacy had beaten the fascists at their own game and set up a dictatorial government nine years before Mussolini. In the light of this it is significant that Monsignor Benigni ended his days as an apologist for the Italian Fascists. The influence of the Holy Office was felt most in the Church during the 1930s and 1940s; yet the oath against Modernism remained in force until late 1966.
Humani generis and the 'new Modernism'
Theology, both systematic and biblical, and the renewed interest in historical sources that was to form the foundation of Vatican II, only began to revive again during and after the Second World War. The roots of this revival go back further, but its celebrated names only came to prominence in theological circles in the late 1940s. Theologians like Yves Congar. Henri Bouillard, and Henri de Lubac, patristic scholars like Jean Danielou, andbehind them allthe palaeontologist and philosopher-poet, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, were all at the height of their powers by the end of the Second World War. This period also saw the development of theological periodicals and the beginning of Sources chretiennes, a series of new editions of works of patristic theology. The emphasis in this movement was on a personal assimilation of the truths of faith, the historical context in which faith is lived out, and the importance of relating belief to contemporary philosophy and culture. This was 'all lumped together under the pretty colorless designation' of La théologie nouvelle (the new theology).(42)
There is a real sense in which Pope Pius XII could be said to have encouraged new developments in theology by his encyclicals Divino afflante Spiritu (30 September 1943), which supported the use of historical arid critical methods in biblical exegesis, and Mediator Dei (20 November 1947), which strengthened the renewal of the liturgy and emphasized lay participation in the eucharist. However, the followers of the 'new theology"' were in for a rude shock if they thought Pius XII was on their side. It was all very well for the pope to be talking about the possibility of change; but it was a different matter for theologians to be talking about personal faith and historical context. Their approach raised the hackles of the hard-nosed integralists in Rome, the most important of whom, was the Dominican Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, who was quick to raise the alarm.(43)The result of this concern was Pius XIIs encyclical Humani generis (12 August 1950).
Again we are dealing with a broad-brushstroke condemnation, directed not so much against individuals as against a movement. It was clear that it was addressed to the propounders of the théologie nouvelle. Alberigo notes the way in which the encyclical identifies discordia (dissent) and aberratio a veritate (aberration from the truth, or error).(44) This has become a continuing papalist theme since Vatican II: the dissenters are as bad asperhaps even worse thanthe heretics, for both disturb the status quo. So dissent is equated with heresy. Pius XII casts the whole post-war age in apocalyptic terms: unless the Church is tightly united with the hierarchy and centered on the papal magisterium, the Catholic faith will disintegrate. Those who think otherwise are acting in a destructive manner. The 'sacred magisterium' was, the pope argued, 'the proximate and universal norm of truth in matters of faith and morals.(45) The task of the theologian is to act as a kind of magisterial catechist and source-text expert: theology's job is to show 'how the doctrine defined by the Church is contained in the sources.' Alberigo comments that Humani generis stifled debate and caused havoc throughout the church.(46)
Pius XII was followed by John XXIII (1958-1963). John turned decisively away from the attitudes of his predecessors and returned literally to indulgentiam benignitatisbenign mercy. In many ways his pontificate was in sharp contrast to everything that had gone before in papal history since the beginning of the nineteenth century. The greatest work of his papacy was the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).
But, looked at historically, there is a sense in which John XXIII and Vatican II were mere incidents in the ongoing history of papalism. Pope John certainly changed the face of the whole Church, but he failed to change attitudes in the Roman curia. These days the faces may be different and the personnel come from many countries as well as Italy. But the assumption of superior knowledge and the possession of a monopoly on theological truth still characterizes the Vatican. Clearly papalism does not change with personnel: it is inherent in the very structure of the papacy as it is constituted today.
History versus ideology
It is for this reason that we need to return to the historical and traditional sources of authority in the Church, to try to discover clues as to other ways in which we might change the notion and practice of authority in the Church. While the actual authority of the popes has ebbed and flowed throughout history, they have never before been the absolute masters of the Church. They have certainly claimed such pretensions in the past, but they never actually achieved total power. My fundamental argument in this book is that the position of the contemporary papacy is not only unique in Christian history, it also distorts the traditionally understood structure of the Church.
A historical study of the evolution of the papal office does not reveal a smooth development from primitive beginnings to high papalism. It actually shows a very uneven evolution in which the papal office is sometimes powerful in the Church and at other times has only the most limited influence. But until now there has always been a check on papalism: synods, councils, the college of cardinals, theologians, emperors, kings, and Catholic governments have all provided some balance to centralized papal power. The collegial nature of authority in the Church has provided some form of balance to the monopoly of power in the hands of one person. Absolutism is not the norm in the Church. And always there has been the sensus fidelium, the acceptance or rejection, by the Catholic people, of the Church's teaching.
But the influence of the ideology of absolute monarchy, which first emerged in the sixteenth century with kings such as Francis I (France), Philip II (Spain), and Henry VIII, gradually permeated the Church; and the popes began to see themselves not as Italian Renaissance princelings, but as the vice-regents of God and the monarchs of the ecclesiastical kingdom. The divine right of kings has much in common with the divine right of popes. Something of this was articulated in the seventeenth century by Saint Robert Bellarmine, although its roots go back much further to the imperial Roman model of government.(47) But, paradoxically, it was only in the nineteenth century that the notion of the papal monarchy was fully realized, at the very time when it was in retreat in civil society. It is to this that I will turn when dealing with Vatican I (pp. 46-62).
But before we look at how the pope became both the absolute owner of the Church and infallible, there is an important caveat. It is important to remember that history offers a radical critique of papalism by broadening our perspectives. Papalist ideology tries to keep us fixated in the realm of doctrine, for it is there that the theoreticians of papal power can try to insulate us from the realities of papal history. The papacy has related to the Church in several different ways in its long history. There is no reason why it cannot discover a new role in the emerging century. Development is an ongoing process, and just because John Paul II is so powerful it does not mean that the Church cannot move on from here. In order to move we need firstly to draw on the long tradition of Catholicism, and secondly to feel free to use our imaginations. If Saint Robert Bellarmine felt free to apply the contemporary idea of absolute monarchy to his model of the papacy, so present-day theologians should not feel afraid to use models from our timesuch as a synodal or democratic approach. Historically, no model is exhaustive or absolutely normative.
People today do have a tendency to presume that contemporary papalism goes right back to the earliest times. But this is not true; it is very recent in its development. So in order to see the contemporary papacy in perspective it is useful to reflect historically on how the extraordinary centralization of papal power that we experience today developed. Its ultimate expression came at the First Vatican Council (1869-1870), but its roots go back further.
1 Originally the term Pontifex Maximus was the title of the chief pagan priest of the Roman state. In De pudicilia, Tertullian used it satirically of Pope Callistus I (217-222), but from the fifteenth century onwards it became a regular title of honor for the popes. It was recently disavowed by Popes John Paul 1 and John Paul II because of its pagan overtones.
2 Giuseppe Alberigo, 'The Authority of the Church in the Documents of Vatican I and Vatican II,' in Leonard Swidler and Piet F. Fransen (eds), Authority in the Church and the Schillebeeckx Case, New York: Crossroad, 1982, pp. 130-1.
3 Charles Davis. A Question of Conscience. London: Sheed and Ward, 1967. pp. 190. 236.
4 Quoted in Henri Fesquet, The Drama of Vatican II: The Ecumenical Council June 1962-December 1965, New York: Random House, 1967, pp. 21011. See also Xavier Rynne, The Second Session, London; Faber and Faber, 1964, pp. 180-1.
5 Quoted in Fesquet, p. 215. See also Rynne, Second Session., pp. 1823.
6 Richard McBrien. Catholicism, new edition, Melbourne: Collins Dove, 1994, p. 1236.
7 See E. F,. Y. Hales. Revolution and Papacy 1769-1846, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966, pp. 227-95.
8 As is customary, dates given for the popes are for their papal reign.
9 See my book Mixed Blessings: John Paul II and the Church of the Eighties, Ringwood: Penguin, 1986, especially pp. 154-76. See also my article 'The Peripatetic Pope' in Hans Küng and Leonard Swidler (eds), The Church in Anguish: Has the Vatican Betrayed Vatican 11?, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986, pp. 527.
10 For details see Michael Walsh, John Paul II: A Biography., London: HarperCollins, 1994. Refer to the index under individual countries.
11 Translations in this book from the current Code are from the translation by the Canon Law Society of America published as Code of Canon Law : Latin-English Edition. Washington: Canon Law Society of America, 1983.
12 For a translation see Origins 20:8 (5 July 1990), pp. 117-26.
13 Ibid., p. 120.
14 Ibid., p. 122.
16 See Collins, Mixed Blessings., pp. 171-2.
17 L'Osservatore Romano, 22 November 1995, p. 2.
18 The text can be found in Austin Flannery (ed.), Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, Dublin: Dominican Publications. 1975, pp. 379-81.
19 Francis A. Sullivan, Magisteruun. Teaching Authority in the Catholic Church.. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1983.
20 Francis A. Sullivan. 'Guide-posts from Catholic Tradition,' America. 9 December 1995.
22 Nicholas Lash, 'On Not Inventing Doctrine' The. Tablet, 2 December 1995, p. 1544.
23 See Colman J. Barry (ed.). Readings in Church History Westminster: Newman Press, 1965, vol. 3, pp. 37-44.
24 The word ultramontane' is derived from ultra montes ('beyond the mountains') and it refers to the tendency of the French Catholics to look beyond the Alps to papal Rome as the source of power and wisdom in the Church. It is in contrast to 'Gallicanism,' which saw the Catholic Church in France as centered there and subject to the French monarchy. 'Cisalpinism is the literal opposite of ultramontanism.
25 Translation in Barry, vol. 3, p. 41.
26 Ibid., pp. 41-2.
27 Ibid., p. 42.
28 See Alberic Starpoole (ed.), Vatican II by Those Who Were There., London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1986, pp. 283-97.
29 Hales, Revolution, p. 294.
30 Alberigo in Swidler and Fransen, p. 121.
31 Translation in Barry, vol. 3. p. 113.
32 Translation in ibid., p. 112.
33 For the Roman view on Tyrrell see David G. Schultenover, A View from Rome: On the Eve of' the Modernist Crisis, New York: Fordham University Press. 1993, pp. 83-113.
34 A three-volume English translation appeared between 1909 and 1924, entitled The Early History of the Church from its Foundation to the End of the. Fifth Century, London; John Murray.
35 The term given to the first five books of the Bible, with authorship traditionally attributed to Moses.
36 Alfred Loisy, The Gospel and the Church, English trans., London: Isbister, 1903. Reprinted Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976.
37 Roger Aubert in Herbert Jedin and John J. Dolan (eds): History of the Church: The Church in the Industrial Age, New York: Crossroad, 1981. vol. 9, p. 386.
38 Maurice Blondel, Letter on Apologetics and History of Dogma, trans, and edited by Alexander Dru and Illtyd Trethowan, London: Harvill Press, 1964, p. 221.
39 For the Latin text see the Motu proprio Sacrorum antistites (1 September 1910).
40 For the integralist reaction see Aubert in Jedin and Dolan, vol. 9, pp. 467-80.
41 Alberigo in Swidler and Fransen, p. 131.
42 Leo Scheffczyk in Jedin and Dolan. vol. 10, p. 268.
43 Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) studied at the Angelicum University in Rome between 1946 and 1948 and he completed a thesis under Garrigou-Lagrange's direction on Saint John of the Cross in 1948.
44 Alberigo in Swidler and Fransen, pp. 132-3.
45 Quoted by Alberigo, ibid., p. 132.
47 See Patrick Granfield, The Papacy in Transition, Dublin: Gill and Macmillan 1981. pp. 34-61.
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