11 February 2015

The Curia Romana (1)

Jorge Bergoglio has no Magisterial authority whatsoever. The Bishop of Rome does. But, of course, Jorge Bergoglio is Bishop of Rome; and so, qua Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis possesses the very considerable authority defined dogmatically by the First Vatican Council and expressed legally in the two Codices Iuris Canonici. Being Bishop of Rome is what counts. And being Bishop of Rome, like being Bishop of Anywhere, means being Bishop of Somewhere. And being Bishop of Somewhere means being Bishop of certain people ... of certain living and breathing Christian humans.

What is "a Bishop"? There is a (largely Anglophone) ecclesiastical underworld populated by what are often called "Episcopi vagantes", "Wandering Bishops". These are persons who have privately secured for themselves technically 'valid' episcopal orders. Many people suspect that their motive for doing this has been personal vanity, because these are 'bishops' who are not surrounded by the serried and serious ranks of their presbyterium, nor ministered to ad altare by their cheerful bustling Deacons, and who lack the boisterous, sometimes disorderly, mob of 'their' Laity, laos. And they are not, these Episcopi vagantes, in peace and communion with the Apostolic, or indeed with any other, See. Far from it.

Per contra, in Catholic (and Orthodox) ecclesiology, a Bishop is a man who discharges the functions of the high Episcopal office in the context of the structured Church life of People, Deacons, and Presbyters. A gathering of Christians so structured is known as a "Particular Church". Like any other Diocesan Bishop, the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, is a Bishop with a Presbyterium, a Diakonia, a Laos. He is not a lonely isolated individual with technically valid orders and a technically valid Electio in Summum Pontificem tucked into his back pocket. He is not, that is to say, a Papa vagans. With his usual acuity, Blessed John Henry Newman argued, in the case of (the very few) early popes who showed signs of doctrinal wobble, that, since this happened after they had been beaten up in Byzantine prisons, it had no bearing on the Papal Office, since they were acting as individuals in physical and moral isolation from their Ecclesia.

In the Particular, local Church of Rome, the "Cardinal Presbyters" are the Pope's presbyterium, which is why they have "titular" churches assigned to them of which they are the titular parish priests. Mutatis mutandis, the Cardinal Deacons. You will see where this is leading. The 'Cardinalate', if that is the right word, is not without theological significance. It is part of the organic structure of the very important Particular (i.e.local) Church of which the Successor of S Peter is the Bishop. This is seen most easily and most visibly in the persons of the curial Cardinals who permanently work in Rome. But it applies also to the other Cardinals throughout the world, who qua Roman Presbyters have their titular churches and are distributed among the boards of the Roman dicasteries. The Cardinal Archbishop of Timbuctoo wears red and is addressed as 'Eminence' not because he is the important local Primate of a big National Church, but because he is Cardinal Presbyter of the Titular Church of SS Promiscuus and Miscellaneus*, which, until the Risorgimento, the Pontiff used to visit for the Stational Mass on February 31.

There has sometimes been a tendency, which I very strongly condemn, to want to separate the notion of the Pope from that of the Curia. The Pope, it is sometimes said, is the Pope and has his highly significant dogmatically based prerogatives which we can't really avoid fessing up to. But the Curia ... that is nothing more than a civil service, and a rather unattractive one to boot ( ... er ... ). Not only is it without doctrinal significance, but its members get in the way; they behave in a bossy fashion in their dealings with the Churches throughout the world. Perhaps they should be cut down. Perhaps they should be put in their place. Might we not be happier without them?

In my view, this is not merely humanly unfair but is also extremely flawed theologically. It is a direct assault upon that structure, the structure of the Particular local Church of Rome, within which the Supreme Pontiff necessarily discharges his unique and indispensible role. It is a solvent which, because it seeks to split off the Pope from the structures of his Particular local Church, has the potential to leave the Roman Pontiff as a lonely and decontextualised figure; in effect, a very powerful Episcopus vagans. And that sounds very much like saying 'a theologically dubious Absolute Monarch'.
To be continued.
*I owe this intriguing duo, and their Feast Day (a semidouble), to the fertile imagination of the late Rt Revd Mgr Ronald Arbuthnott Knox, Protonotary Apostolic and Master of Arts (Oxon.). 


Joshua said...

No bishop, no king! - James VI & I.

No cardinal, no Pope?

the Savage said...

I think one has to distinguish between the Roman curia, essentially the Papal civil service, and the College of Cardinals itself, which is truly the body which represents the clergy of the Church of Rome in a manner analogous to cathedral chapters, canons and archdeacons etc., in other large dioceses. A radical reform could abolish the curia and / or could end the internationalization of the college of cardinals by insisting that it only be formed by resident clergy of the Church of Rome, but the body of the College of Cardinals, as the body representing the Roman clergy, I would agree is part of the constitutional form of the Roman Church.

Raider Fan said...

There is a (largely Anglophone) ecclesiastical underworld populated by what are often called "Episcopi vagantes", "Wandering Bishops".

Otherwise well-read trads seem to have no problem with certain wandering Bishops owing to their devotion to a particular form of Mass but a Bishop who has orders but not jurisdiction ain't traditional in any authentic sense.

Aaron Sanders said...

To play with your imagery, though, Father, aren't the bulk of the cardinals really just presbyteri vagantes *in relation to* the Roman church? Would it not be possible to press a case against the Roman Curia that precisely the reason its current form needs dismantling is to turn it once again into a recognizable organ of the local Roman church, organically connected with that presbyterium and diaconate as opposed to caricaturing its structures through the legal fictions of tituli and diaconiae (granted to men who exercise neither ministry nor even jurisdiction within their putative assignments)?

Stephen said...

If memory serves, it was the Code of Roman Canon Law released in 1918 (marked considerably with the fingerprints of a rising young Pacelli) which did away with any remaining local control of the selection of those non-Italian archbishops who would normally receive the scarlet, that control now firmly under the Bishop of Rome and his respective curial departments.

While such centralization could, in any organization, have its advantages, it comes with a set of disadvantages as well. A perpetual stream of "yes men" come to mind. Did the Habsburgs - or anybody - ultimately benefit from in-breeding? If no, what's to prevent any human organism from suffering from the same?

Pastor in Monte said...

Two observations, Father.
Freelance clergy seem to be multiplying alarmingly these days; they seem to have discovered that undertakers are very anxious to find accommodating clergy to officiate at crematoria. Who wouldn't want to do 20 mins' work with no pastoral duties attached and receive nearly £200 a time. Some of these 'clergy' do six or more services a day!
Regarding byzantine dungeons; I agree that that lets poor old Liberius off the hook, but one can't argue that with respect to John XXII's theological wobble (though he died well).