"Real" Catholics

There is an interesting passage in Eamon Duffy's magisterial if popular Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2nd edition, 2001) in which we read of a fascinating appeal, by the Franciscans, to the notion of the irreformability of the ordinary magisterium:
A crucial influence in the development of the idea that the Pope himself might be free from error came from the Franciscan debates about poverty. Successive popes had ruled in favour of the Franciscan rejection of property. When Pope John XXII repudiated that teaching, and denied that Christ was a pauper, Franciscan theologians appealed against his judgment to the infallibility of other, earlier popes. They argued that the Church, in the person of those popes, had repeatedly accepted the Franciscan view of poverty as an evangelical form of life. John XXII, therefore, was in error in rejecting this infallible teaching--and since true popes do not err, this proved that he was no longer a true pope. Papal infallibility was here being invoked not to exalt the Pope's authority, but to limit it, by ensuring that a pope did not arbitrarily reverse earlier Christian teaching.
What is interesting here is not the idea that a particular Pope had erred (or so the Franciscans were claiming), but the idea that Popes, as such, cannot err and, hence, the erring person in the papal garb is not really a Pope at all, but is only homonymously a Pope--a Pope in name only. This is not an appeal to an early version of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility as promulgated at Vatican I, though it is clearly connected to that idea, but is rather an appeal to the idea that, whenever Popes teach in conformity with the magisterium, they, insofar as they act as spokesmen for the maagisterium, are preserved from error. Not because they, as particular human beings, have some special grace that nobody else has, but because the office they hold has been granted that grace. If they should happen to err, that means that they no longer truly fill that office.

I was reminded of this passage by the recent kerfuffle surrounding Jay Dyer's decision to become a Roman Catholic. I call it a "kerfuffle", but it seems to have provoked controversy primarily among his Orthodox friends: the Romans in the playground have yet to get deeply involved. I was particularly struck by an essay at a..sinner by Sophocles Frangakis. I find Sophocles to be a voice for Christian charity in the blogosphere, and have always respected his opinions and comments, whether I read them here or at other blogs where he contributes, and his essay on Jay's conversion is, in my opinion, a good example of how to write an essay about something you disagree strongly with but are willing to respect as a matter of Christian love. As the essay progresses, we find Sophocles answering a few of Jay's arguments, and this, too, he does with sensitivity and care, and it is only to be expected, I think, that someone committed to a particular reading of history would want to defend his reading against a rival, especially when that rival had, for some time, been perceived as a friend. I do not doubt for a moment that I would do the same thing, were I in his shoes.

In fact, I write this very essay for that reason, because Sophocles makes an interesting sort of argument in his reply to Jay. He notes that
The citations Jay provides were written at a time when Rome herself was indeed Orthodox, and from the high remarks lavished on her in lieu not only of her position as the First See but also because of her exemplary Orthodoxy and the keeping of that one salvific Faith preserved and undiminished when other Sees were beset with heresy.

Rome was Orthodox and this is why the East "tolerated" her position because they were brethren, confessing one and the same Faith together and gladly accorded primacy, as it, primacy, existed then in its proper context.
Later (because of the Filioque controversy, among other things), Rome ceased to be "orthodox" in the sense that Sophocles has in mind and, hence, ceased to fill that office of Primacy that the other Sees willingly recognized in her for so long. In short, Sophocles makes here the very same argument that the Franciscans made about Pope John XXII. Just as he ceased to be truly a Pope when he attempted to teach something contrary to the Tradition, so too, Sophocles (and other similarly-minded Orthodox) claims, the Roman See itself, insofar as it has "erred", has ceased to be Primatial.

And now there looms on the horizon a possible concordat between Rome and Constantinople, and this would permit another application of the same argument:
Hold still, everyone, because we may in our lifetime witness another schism in the Church if the Ecumencial Patriarch Bartholomew continues as he is in opposition to Moscow, who is holding the line formulating Orthodox answers to modern problems and challenges but of course is considered as narrow and old fashioned for doing so.

If Constantinople should, for argument's sake, unify with the Roman Catholic Church, the Patriarch of Constantinople would cease to be "Orthodox" despite the fact that he takes up residence in the place Constantinople as Patriarch of the New Rome. He would in effect not hold in common that Faith held by the other Patriarchs.
In other words, once you determine who is in the wrong, you also get to determine who is in the right, and the "real" church will move around from place to place depending on who happens to toe your particular line. Constantinople has displaced Rome, but is now in danger of being displaced by Moscow. Eventually, I suppose, if Moscow were to reunite with Rome along with Constantinople, it, too, would be displaced (perhaps by Moscow, Idaho, just to keep things from getting too complicated).

I am reminded here of an argument that was put against me over at The Continuum. After suggesting that a central interpretive authority is required to avoid theological relativism, I was treated, in answer, to a quotation from, of all places, the 39 Articles:
As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred: so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.
I confess that it was difficult to refrain from laughing out loud at this, but I never got the chance to ask whether the "Church" of England had "erred" in saying that the Church of Rome had "erred", since I was unceremoniously dismissed by the worthies there as a crank. You know you're in trouble when folks who routinely use Christian names with one another decide to refer to you only as "Carson". That's OK--I've been called worse, but I am certainly not insensitive to the necessity for the Church of England to maintain that everybody else is wrong. Indeed, it is the great Protestant Burden, it seems to me, to maintain two incompatible ideas at the same time. On the one hand, it must be maintained that something called "the Tradition" is not to be located in any one time or place, but in all times and places, that is, it is what has been believed by everyone everywhere. That's what "catholic" means, after all: "universal". On the other hand, it must be maintained that, when it comes to deciding what, exactly, fits this description--well, then it's confined to one time and one place: it's me. If you start to do or to teach something that is not all that consonant with what I and my cronies have been doing and teaching, clearly the only explanation is that you have departed from "the Tradition". I can prove this, too, by showing you the documents and other artifacts that constitute the evidence of "the Tradition" and interpreting them for you in the proper way, not in the heterodox way that you interpret them. If you insist, for some perverse reason, that I am interpreting them wrongly, then I will just point out to you that their meaning is plain and that you are the one jumping through hermeneutic hoops to get it to come out your way, while I am simply looking at all the data in the plain light of day, with no interpretive lens other than sheer rationality.

This kind of game can be played by both sides, of course, but I have to admit that the Orthodox have something of a leg up on us Romans, because we tend to think that the Orthodox are, apart from that whole Papal Primacy thing, well, orthodox, whereas the Orthodox tend to think that Romans, in addition to that whole Papal Primacy thing, have heaped many other heterodoxies onto their ash heap of theology. In other words, if reunification is what we're after, the Orthodox think that the Romans have a lot farther to go than the Romans think the Orthodox have to go. Having said that, however, I must say that my own opinion is that, however far you happen to think the other side has to go to meet you half way (and don't we all think we're closer to the center than the other guy is, else we would be standing with that other guy already), there are better and worse ways to go about approaching that center. The wrong way is to start quoting from the 39 Articles, or to say that Rome as a See has done the equivalent of what John XXII did. A far better approach is that taken by such excellent Orthodox writers as Peter Gilbert of De unione ecclesiarum or the folks at Eirenikon. The strategy employed at sites such as those (and there are others) is to look for common ground rather than difference, and where there are differences, to look for a common hermeneutic that will allow both sides to approach the center together, rather than forcing one or the other to come the whole distance alone.

I freely confess to my own particular bias here, and I hope and pray that my Orthodox brethren do not take what I have written in the wrong way. I suppose they are used to hearing such things from certain sorts of Catholics and perhaps it is safe to say that everyone, on all sides of any debate about who is "right" and who is "wrong", should be mindful that pride is the deadliest of sins, so I will be the first to apologize if what I say in genuine charity and hope for reunification comes off as proud, condescending, or just generally arrogant. It may be, as some Orthodox writers have lamented, that reunification is basically de facto impossible now, but one may pray otherwise since, of course, with God all things are possible.

Comments

Anonymous said…
"The citations Jay provides were written at a time when Rome herself was indeed Orthodox, and from the high remarks lavished on her in lieu not only of her position as the First See but also because of her exemplary Orthodoxy and the keeping of that one salvific Faith preserved and undiminished when other Sees were beset with heresy."

Scott,
The difficulty here is that, among the citations provided by Jay, is one from Pope St. Agatho in which he claims, not only that the See of Rome has not erred, but that it will remain "undefiled to the end" in accordance with the promise of our Saviour. This letter of St. Agatho was accepted by the 6th Ecumenical Council. What the Orthodox have to explain is how their view that Rome has ceased to be orthodox squares with this fact.

Ed De Vita
Strider said…
When two communions claim to be the *one* Church, each interpreting Scripture, Creed, Church Fathers and Church history through its own "infallible" interpretive lens, how is it possible to effect reconciliation?

Each, I suppose, must be willing to "die," I suppose, willing to consider a new and deeper interpretive paradigm that comprehends all the data. I sense that Catholicism is willing to entertain this possibility. We see this willingness in John Paul II's invitation to re-think with him the role of the papacy. Few have taken him up on this offer.

In his recent talk on Catholic-Orthodox relations, Richard Neuhaus suggests that Catholicism is committed to reunification with Orthodoxy because of her sense that she is diminished by separation from the Eastern patrimony. I think he is right. However, I have to say that I do not often encounter among the Orthodox any sense that they are diminished by separation from the Western patrimony. Quite the contrary. Orthodoxy appears to experience itself as truly whole and sufficient--whole and sufficient, of course, in Christ and never apart from Christ, but whole and sufficient(theologically, ecclesiologically, and spiritually), nonetheless. Indeed, it is precisely this experience of wholeness and sufficiency that leads many to convert to Orthodoxy.

Until God creates within the hearts of the Orthodox a sense of her weakness and incompleteness, analogous to the weakness and incompleteness now experienced by many Catholics, I do not see how unity can be recovered. Mutual conversion is necessary, but conversion is impossible when one is satisfied with one's present understanding of things.

It is hard to see the way forward.
Anonymous said…
I must commend you on this essay.

As a "former" Catholic, now Orthodox, I long for the day when such distinctions, ( Orthodox/ Catholic), will vanish. I don't harbor any anger towards Catholicism nor any feeling that it has slipped into horrible heresy etc;. I am Orthodox more because the unity between liturgy and what is unfortunately called spirituality is more integrated than in Catholicism. In other words, I like the Orthodox Liturgy more than the Catholic, ( and no, the Tridentine is just as "vapid" or dessicated as the Modern Ordus, perhaps even more so once one "removes" the romanticism around the use of Latin, ( a lovely language but incomprehensible to most of us)), even as I wish that it could be a tad more "modern", ( how I yearn for some Gospel music instead of the somewhat mournful sounds of both Byzantine and Russian chants).

I think the notion of theosis is something that Catholicism lacks, in the sense that it seems limited to a spiritual elite rather than for the people as a whole. The resistance to the Centering Prayer movement by many is an indication of this, ( although I wish that there was a similar movement in Orthodoxy but then, that would remove the romanticism around monasticism).

At any rate, I enjoyed your analysis of those who wish to have their cake and eat it too.

Evagius
Sophocles said…
Scott,

Thank you for your response. I have been thinking over some of the things you state in your post and in turn I have written some notes on how I would like to respond. I may not get around to it right away but it is on the radar.

As always, my best.
arturovasquez said…
This post reminded me of the sedevacantists for some reason, and to some extent, the Society of St. Pius X. It is an interesting premise to pit the Papacy against a Pope, or tradition against the contemporary church, particularly since one always views the Church through the lens of the present.

That being said, one of the problems of the Orthodox is not that the decision as to what constituted the "true Church" was not a personal decision as in our own context of Protestantism in a liberal society, but it was fundamentally a state decision. Such people like the irenic Bekkos were condemned and the hardliners codified as "dogma" due to the machinations of the noble classes in Byzantium and Russia. In my own studies of Byzantine history, one finds at times that doctrinal differences were used to make sure that the national church maintained its autonomy from the Universal Church, and Orthodox ecclesiology (or lack of it) stems from the fact that the real "backbone" of ecclesial being was not some abstract concept of "Orthodoxy", but the national despot: Czar, Emperor, or what have you.

This struck me in particular when, as a Byzantine Catholic monk, I had to begin the office of Matins with a prayers for the Byzantine despot now over five hundred years dead. Orthodoxy without the royal scepter seems like a hollow being in many ways, and that is the real reason for its often fuzzy logic, petty jurisdictional disputes, and xenophobic attitudes. And that is why it seems so mystifying to the outside observer.
arturovasquez said…
This post reminded me of the sedevacantists for some reason, and to some extent, the Society of St. Pius X. It is an interesting premise to pit the Papacy against a Pope, or tradition against the contemporary church, particularly since one always views the Church through the lens of the present.

That being said, one of the problems of the Orthodox is not that the decision as to what constituted the "true Church" was not a personal decision as in our own context of Protestantism in a liberal society, but it was fundamentally a state decision. Such people like the irenic Bekkos were condemned and the hardliners codified as "dogma" due to the machinations of the noble classes in Byzantium and Russia. In my own studies of Byzantine history, one finds at times that doctrinal differences were used to make sure that the national church maintained its autonomy from the Universal Church, and Orthodox ecclesiology (or lack of it) stems from the fact that the real "backbone" of ecclesial being was not some abstract concept of "Orthodoxy", but the national despot: Czar, Emperor, or what have you.

This struck me in particular when, as a Byzantine Catholic monk, I had to begin the office of Matins with a prayers for the Byzantine despot now over five hundred years dead. Orthodoxy without the royal scepter seems like a hollow being in many ways, and that is the real reason for its often fuzzy logic, petty jurisdictional disputes, and xenophobic attitudes. And that is why it seems so mystifying to the outside observer.
diane said…
evagius, I deeply appreciate your liturgical concerns although I do not altogether share them. Do you mind if I pray for your return to the Catholic Fold? Prayers to la Guadalupana for similar intentions have borne fruit for me in the past. :)

BTW--you sound like a music lover. What sort of hymnody do you like and long for, in addition to Byzantine chant? I'm just curious. I'm a big fan of the Sacred Harp, although I wouldn't want it at Mass. I also love Renaissance polyphony, but I realistically recognize that few parish choirs could (or would want to) master it.
diane said…
BTW, Dr. Carson...I got a kick out of the allusion to Moscow, Idaho.

I think this is the whole problem with an ecclesiology which states, in effect: "I will accept that Rome (or Constantinople) is part of the Church until Rome (or Constantinople) says or does something that I do not consider orthodox. Then I will read Rome (or Constantinople) out of the Church and retrench somewhere else, secure in my True Churchiness."

It is essentially the Protestant impulse: judging the Church instead of being judged by her. Taken to its logical conclusion, it leads to that quintessentially Protestant phenomenon of endless fissiparation, culminating in The Church of We Four and No More.

I witnessed this phenomenon just recently, when a Truly Reformed type of guy posted to a mostly moribund e-mail list I'm on. Curious, I followed his link to his site, where I learned that he was one of the founders of a Really Truly Honestly No-Kidding Pure True Reformed Church, which had broken from an Almost As Pure But Apparently Not Quite Truly Reformed Church because the latter was deemed in error on some arcane point. One page on the website solicited "ecclesiastical officers" for this new Truly Truly Reformed Church, because apparently there aren't any yet. IOW, this church is so rarified in its purity that it exists essentially on paper!

Am I saying that someone who's willing to read both Rome and Constantinople out of the Church will inevitably end up in The Church of We Four and No More? Absolutely not. I am saying only that this is where such purist impulses do tend. But most people do not follow their own logic to its logical conclusion--thank God!
Sophocles said…
Scott,

I have been typing up the response to your post over the last several days and it is turning out to be quite large. I am not finished yet and I think I may need to release it in parts.

Anyway, talk to you soon.
Jay Dyer said…
Evagius said:

"I think the notion of theosis is something that Catholicism lacks, in the sense that it seems limited to a spiritual elite rather than for the people as a whole. The resistance to the Centering Prayer movement by many is an indication of this, ( although I wish that there was a similar movement in Orthodoxy but then, that would remove the romanticism around monasticism)."

The Catholic Catechism, in probably a dozen places, teaches theosis, as do all the western Fathers.

-Jay
Anonymous said…
Scott,

I seem to recall, fuzzily and with much trepidation in relying on my memory, from my long ago study of the Jon XXII question, that the only rational Catholic take on it was that John XXII was not the Pope when he erred and this truth could be discerned with certainly before and separately from his error. Thus it is not his error which "proves" his no longer holding the office. It may help fix additional comfort to the conclusion for some people, but the proper road to the conclusion is not by reason of the error itself.

Evagius, I am always cautious about saying that I "wish the music were different " in this way or that with respect to liturgy, when I am not favoring the ancient music. The reason is this: all "popular" music is cultural. This cultural fabric helps form our sensibilities as to what "sounds right." Now, if I understand the Popes aright, the "cultural" fabric of the ancient chants is, at least in part, the culture of heaven itself.

Therefore, to the extent that the music held in great esteem for 1400 years by the Church should be assumed to be culturally wholesome in the sense of being appropriate to the heavenly culture, to the extent that it sound "off" to me, perhaps it is MY ear, and MY sensibilities, and MY soul that should change.

To put it in a nutshell, it seems that gregorian chant reflects universal truths about the human way of relating to the Divine. If so, it does not need to be replaced by something which is attuned to our present culture. And I hope I eventually learn to like it better than I do so far.
Scott Carson said…
OK, I'll bite: How could it be discerned, "with certainty before and separately from his error" that he was not Pope de re? I doubt very much that that is the "only rational Catholic take on it", but I've been surprised before.

At any rate, the point of the passage from Duffy is unaffected, since even if it could have been known with certainty and separately from his error that he was not "really" the Pope, that is still consistent with the idea that John XXII was not really Pope when he erred, and with the idea that an errant teaching cannot come from the office of the (true) Pope.

On the musical front, I would say this. First, I think it is a mistake to conflate Gregorian Chant as a musical form with the idea of "universal truths about the human way of relating to the Divine", since Gregorian Chant is itself a cultural form: it was the style of singing music in the 6th century, not something that Gregory made up based on Christian principles. The "universal truths about the human way of relating to the Divine" lie rather in the texts, which are essentially Christian and represent the deposit of the faith. Divine as Gregorian Chant is--and it is my own preferred form of liturgical music--I think we are forced to admit that this use of the term "divine" is pure metaphor.
Anonymous said…
How could it be discerned, "with certainty before and separately from his error" that he was not Pope de re?

I admit, my memory does not serve to recall that. So the argument is weak - so far.

But look at it from the other side: if the fact that John XXII was not Pope rests inherently on the premise that he pronounced error in faith, then the Seda Vacantis groups can never be adequately disproven, and indeed the distinct infallibility charism of the papal office is completely undermined. Which in turn undermines the mark of unity of the Church, because that charism as distinct for the pope is what principally separates his office from that of the other patriarchs, and it is in unity with the Pope that unity if fact (rather than theory) can be adjudged.

I would consider a definite conclusion that John XXII's ceasing to be pope rests inherently on his error to be a grave defect in the Catholic (and all Christian) claims of infallibility of whatever sort.

On music, I admit the probability that gregorian chant is threaded with certain cultural aspects of that time and place (1400 years ago). However, I believe that it was itself in part a development of Hebrew practice regarding the Psalms, which stem from 1600 years before Gregory. I seriously doubt that the popular music listened to by the emperor and the aristocracy sounded just like it, or that contemporaneous folk songs even remotely resembled it. (Do we have any actual data on this?)

Pet theory: God, through the psalmists, started the development of gregorian chant with David and oversaw its continued growth into gregorian chant intentionally. Anything that purports to replace that should incorporate all that is right (in a universal sense) about it, and go further. But only those highly inculturated with gregorian chant will reasonably have even a shot at being able to discern whether another form captures what is universally good in gregorian without any loss.
Arturo,

In my own studies of Byzantine history, one finds at times that doctrinal differences were used to make sure that the national church maintained its autonomy from the Universal Church, and Orthodox ecclesiology (or lack of it) stems from the fact that the real "backbone" of ecclesial being was not some abstract concept of "Orthodoxy", but the national despot: Czar, Emperor, or what have you.

True enough, but one might note that the historical methodology in some Byzantine history approaches that of, say, Hans Kung in his book on infallibility. Such a methodology will undo every abstract ecclesiology, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant.

Of course, even an informed detractor must admit that it is not all “a hollow being,” hollowed along caesaropapist lines anyway. We have our St. Nil’s and other saints who stood against the state or ecclesial complicity with the state in certain matters. I do not think that there is a necessary relationship between Orthodox liturgy and former Orthodox political-ecclesial “synergies.”

That said, contemporary Orthodox thinking regarding the state or political orders in general is abysmal, and this situation is obviously related to our unfortunate history with various political orders. There is nothing remotely close to the serious attention Catholics of various stripes and schools have given these issues in recent generations. In my limited experience, most “old world” Orthodox seem to now want not a Tsarist or Imperial state, but a nanny state that is cozy with the Church. Among American Orthodox you have cradles who tend to be run of the mill Democrats, and you have converts who tend to be either run of the mill Republicans, Ron Paul style libertarians, or a broad Burke-stylized pop paleo-conservative. Fair enough, but the unfortunate thing is that most Orthodox intellectuals in America fall into these simply popular categories as well. We do not have our own version of natural law theorists (of the new or old varieties). We have not a single serious judicial theorist. We have no serious Orthodox economists in the anglo-Orthodox world, or even economic categories, say, something akin to Catholics on subsidiarity via Rerum Novarum. When we address things such as the environment, and it comes time to actually talk policy, we never rise above cliché. Now, considering that there are so few Orthodox in the West, one might think me to be expecting a bit much. Perhaps, but I will say this. Orthodox churches in North America and Western Europe are full of folks with graduate degrees. I have never been a part of an ecclesial culture that had such a high percentage of persons with graduate level educations (yes, I know, how bourgeois). Yet this very educated ecclesial culture has not produced persons who do serious work in the political and economic theoretical arts.

It seems that few Orthodox want to articulate, theologically, how one is to live Orthodoxy, as a citizen or simply as a member of the broader community, within pluralistic liberal democracies. The traditionalists want a return to Empire, and the rest of Orthodox want to have their cake and eat it too, enjoying the benefits of liberal democracy while daydreaming about some conservative or liberal utopia that will never be. Occasionally attempts at theological articulation are made, but these are not serious. For instance, I have heard more than one Orthodox attempt to argue that Ron Paul style libertarianism is in keeping with Orthodox anthropology, our views on human freedom, etc. Good grief. The Constitution of the United States, as interpreted in supposed static fashion, just happens to be the best expression of an Orthodox political order mankind has ever produced. Right. Sometimes I wonder if the typical political temptation for Orthodox is simply to make an idol of whatever political order one happens to find one’s self in.

Sorry for the rant.

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