27 October 2014

"The written Word"

The Holy Father has criticised  the fault of "wanting to close oneself within the written word, and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises; within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve". (He went on to make balancing criticisms of other and contrary attitudes.)

When the first wave of Ordinariate clergy were being 'formed' at Allen Hall, our teaching was solidly, insistently, based upon the Conciliar and post-Conciliar Magisterium. This meant the written words of Vatican II and, mainly, the Magisterial documents of our recently canonised S John Paul II. Written documents like Veritatis splendor and Familiaris consortio. Is the Holy Father now telling us that we ought not to be 'closed within' such written words? Heaven help us; it's only a couple of years since we learned all that stuff from expensive written texts provided for our education by funds which, I think I understood, the English Bishops generously made available! Making a bonfire of them seems a bit premature!

Of course, those written words did not represent the end of the Magisterium. There must be development! But, surely, any developments cannot just ignore or rubbish the teaching of those documents? S Vincent of Lerins and B John Henry Newman analysed the difference between change and development. A human foetus cannot develop into an octopus, nor an acorn into a lemon tree.

I have heard it suggested that rhetoric like the Holy Father's is a danger to his own authority, rather like cutting off the branch that one is sitting on. If the magisterial documents, the written words of a predecessor are now of negligible consequence, how, people wonder, is his own authority any greater? When Pope Francis issues some written words which he desires to be seen as having Magisterial authority, what would be his answer to the naughty little boy who said "Ah, Holy Father, I'm not going to close myself within your written word. Give me the God of Surprises any day"?

I'm not sure what the answer is to all these troubling fears. But I do sometimes feel a little uneasy lest there be a tendency among loyal and well-meaning people to regard the lightest words obiter dicta of whoever may be the current Bishop of Rome as having enormously, fabulously, greater authority than those of boring earlier pontiffs which are now merely part of a dead old world we call History. If such assumptions are around, I can only say that I do not agree with them. On the contrary, I share the Patrimonial, 'Inklings' views expressed by CS Lewis and DL Sayers about the importance of being open to the wisdom of earlier ages which may not be flawed by resting upon the same implicit assumptions as is our own age. Indeed, I'm sure it cannot really be the hope of the Holy Father that, as soon as he is dead, everybody will heave an enormous sigh of relief and dump his written Magisterial legacy into the bin, and start going into ecstasies about Pope Leo XIV and the daily wonders of his every word and gesture.

The speech of Pope Francis which I began by quoting, with its initial cautions about closing oneself within the written word and the law, ended with quotations from Canon Law about the Pope's own supreme authority. But canons 749, 331, 332, 333, and 334, all of which he referenced, are, surely, the written word? And, moreover, are they not all written in ... um ... a law book?

I have expressed myself rhetorically ... because the Holy Father spoke rhetorically. I share his evident view that rhetoric is enormous fun. That much we both certainly have in common! Another habit I share with the Sovereign Pontiff is that of sometimes letting my rhetoric carry me away into saying something at the start of a piece which I then inadvertently contradict at the end of it, without even noticing that I have done so!!

8 comments:

William Tighe said...

"a tendency among loyal and well-meaning people to regard the lightest words obiter dicta of whoever may be the current Bishop of Rome as having enormously, fabulously, greater authority than those of boring earlier pontiffs which are now merely part of a dead old world we call History"

I call this the kiss of ignorance and private judgment.

Matthew Livermore said...

I think, to be charitable to Pope Francis, when he contrasts closing one's self up in the written word with the God of surprises, he is urging us to not get our faith upside down. Faith has to be founded on a living encounter with the divine - this foundation in mystical experience will then unfold itself through the successive layers of knowledge, liturgy and finally book. The written word will function as a vessel for the light of the encounter with Christ, but Pope Francis wants us not to take the vessel for the light itself, or else "the light shineth, but the darkness comprehendeth it not"

Tamsin said...

Thank you Fr. Hunwicke.

Pope Francis may think that the Ordinariate was quite unnecessary and the Church needs Anglicans as Anglicans, but I think we need you quite a lot...

GOR said...

Whether it be the successor of St. Peter, pro tem, or assorted contemporary theologians, I hew to Chesterton’s “democracy of the dead”.

We weren’t born yesterday – nor was the Church!

Jonathan Cariveau said...

Taking my cue from Matthew Livermore's comment, I daresay the most charitable thing we can say of Pope Francis is he's a man of crude expression who nearly always fails to communicate properly.

If he is, as we must hope, entirely orthodox in his opinions, that the orthodox faithful must be always offering Franciscan interpretation as if he were the oracle of Delphi is unsettling. If one takes into consideration his ecclesiastical promotions, demotions, and assorted acts and allowances, I thin it's far more likely he is confused and contradictory in his opinions, at minimum.

Sue Sims said...

I keep trying to smother a nasty little thought that those who rely on the 'written word', and whom the Holy Father is apparently deprecating, might include those annoying people who keep reminding us of Our Lord's words concerning post-divorce second marriages, or St Paul's strictures on perversion.

Deacon Augustine said...

"Indeed, I'm sure it cannot really be the hope of the Holy Father that, as soon as he is dead, everybody will heave an enormous sigh of relief and dump his written Magisterial legacy into the bin..."

Apparently these days it isn't even necessary to wait for the death of a previous Pope in order to do this. Nevertheless, thanks for a cheerful thought!

SAM said...

The spanish in question says: "el querer cerrarse dentro de lo escrito y no dejarse sorprender por Dios."
So, to be fair, "escrito" does mean 'writing' or 'script' but does not necessarily translate as words (palabra or verbo).