Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Servus Servorum Dei
One of the 'Francis effects' is the revisiting, not so much of Vatican II but of Vatican I. Those questions which fascinated the 16th century theologians and canonists, "What if the Pope ...?", have resurfaced. Some, and I suspect under the next Papacy, more will question that Jesuit 4th vow of obedience not to the Petrine office but to the person of the Pope. It might once have had a serious purpose, in the post-Vatican II church it has proved highly dangerous, it has made the Jesuits Papal 'heavies', who have made up their own mind over what the Pope really wants, in fact it has made each individual Jesuit his own pope. Once it might have been very much about 'thinking with the Church', now it leaves Jesuits to 'discern' which 'church' they are thinking with. The worst misinterpretations of VII seems to have perpetrated by individual Jesuits or Jesuit institutions. For many Catholics Jesuit and dissent are synonymous.
In a hyper-Papacy, where the Pope has an opinion on every matter under the sun it is difficult for us to discern quite what is the Papal Magisterium, especially when it is filtered through headline grabbing modern media. If you were shocked by the headlines that were given to us by the reports of the Papal Plane (prattle?) q &a, it is actually well worth reading what His Holiness actually did say, there was amongst the confusion some pretty good stuff, clear and concise, definite teaching. As someone else said with regard to the Francis/Cyril interview, no-one bothered to say, "Pope and Patriarch condemn gay 'marriage'" suspect.
The Francis Magisterium is imprecise, one of things that fascinates me about Orthodoxy is the idea that a Council is only 'valid' if it is accepted by the Church as a whole. It is a little like the biblical doctrine regarding 'false prophets', you only know they are false when their prophecy turns out to be untrue. In this sense the same is true about the Papacy, we only know what is 'Magisterial' in retrospect. It is little like the effects of the French French Revolution: it is too soon to judge.
Michel Vorris, who I much prefer to read than to watch, has a pretty good thing on crisis in the Magisterium, The problem is of course as has been highlighted by the 'Congo nuns' revelation this week. This apparent significant part of Paul VI's Magisterium was probably a fiction. I had been taught it as a absolute truth: soldiers in the Congo were using rape as a weapon of war, nun's were being raped and becoming pregnant, in which case the Pope had said that they might use the contraceptive pill, not to frustrate the ends of a marital union, obviously, but to regulate their ovulatory cycle, so if these women vowed to celibacy were raped they would not become pregnant. The Curran camp of moral theologians, used this a crowbar to justify anything, even equating a child in the womb with a Congolese soldier and calling him/her an 'unjust aggressor'.
The problem this highlights is, are the actual words of a Pope Magisterial, or must they be interpreted in their historical context, or is it the perceived words of the Pope that are today given us by the media, that are Magisterial? Perhaps the great problem that this Franciscan papacy highlights is the relationship between the media and the Magisterium. Is it that the louder something is said the truer it is?
I had an interesting discussion with a Russian Orthodox over what he called the 'Papal doctrine' of the Immaculate Conception. He believed that Mary was the 'highly favoured', as the Greek renders the Angelic salutation but he wanted to say that the Blessed Virgin was highly favoured (Immaculate) not from her conception but that very moment that God said in Genesis to Eve that she and her child would crush the serpent's head. He looked perplexed when I said that she did not have any existence before her Conception, that really we were saying was always immaculate, she only came into being at her conception. It strikes me both the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are red herrings when we speak of Infallible or Magisterial Papal statements, they are not the normal expression of it. They are true because they are true, not because the Pope. Rather than being something positive a new doctrine, they are actually a condemnation of, if anything new heresies. Thus Mary is Immaculate, not from the fall, or from some other prophecy in the Old Testament or some other pre or post-existent state but from the moment of her conception, her conception being the beginning of her existence. The same can be said I think for the Assumption, the Pope's who defined these doctrines are not saying anything positive in either doctrine, there is nothing new but he is condemning errors, possibly new errors. A definition is putting a fence (a wall?) around something by showing its limits. This is the essential nature of Vatican I's Pastor aeternus, which is itself entirely congruent with what the Church has always taught and is actually a condemnation of 19th century Jesuit Ultramontanism.
Recent 'infallible' statements such as the condemnation of contraception or he ordination of female ordination, are not in any sense spectacular, they are simply the reiteration of what the Church has always, everywhere and by all taught. Any right thinking Catholic could make them. It is Pope acting as archivist or librarian rather than a performer or magician pulling rabbits out of his sleeve.
Perhaps the great truth that this Pope will teach when he is laid to rest with his Fathers is that although the Papacy is of Divine origin, it actually should not be that important. The unity it signifies is important but is unity with Peter's faith as the Fathers remind us but after all in the normal course of the Church's life every bishop, every priest, every Catholic should be speaking infallibly or with magisterial authority all the time, firmly fixed on the Rock. If a Pope is a sower of doubt, if he polarises the Church as apparently a former South American Jesuit Provincial did in his Province we have serious problems.
The Pope is not world leader, the Church is a Communion its model is some contemporary presidency anymore than it is a feudal monarchy, he is after all servus servorum Dei, he has the least place in the Church. He is the Pontifex Maximus, the one who build bridges, we did not see that during the Synod on the family, rather the raking open of old wounds, the aggravating of divisions, even the playing of faction against faction. The Holy Spirit, as any reader of Jesuit discernment of spirits knows, is the bringer of unity, healing and peace whilst factionalism, murmuring, divisions, folly, strife etc come from an entirely different Spirit.
I pray for the time when every Catholic is so imbued with a sense of the ownership of the faith that he would tear a bishop or priest from his pulpit if ever he taught his own views in place of the revealed Truth. The thing is that the Pope shares in our faith, the faith of the whole Church, a communion that is both horizantal but also vertical. It is not 'his faith', anymore than the Church is his personal fiefdom. His role is to denounce error, and to do so with care, we all know what will happen when the returns to the steward who sets about beating the men and maid sevants in his absence.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake