12 February 2015

The Curia Romana (2)

It is well-known that in the early centuries of the Church, the Bishop was the Sacramental centre of his Particular Church, and its Teacher who, assisted by the Holy Spirit, preserved and articulated the authentic teaching which that Church had received. But it seems that the presbyterium was the administrative body, the committe which took decisions, the body of men to whom the bishop turned for their consent before he even felt free to absolve a penitent or ordain a subdeacon. And this seems to have been very true in Rome. There are historians who believe that the Roman Church was, for centuries, governed by its presbyters and entirely lacked a 'monarchical Bishop'. I do not believe this theory, but the evidence upon which it is based does indicate the significance of the Roman presbyters. When a letter had to be sent to Corinth to sort out the disorders in the Church there, the earliest document we have of the exercise of a disciplinary Primacy by Rome, it was not sent in the name of the Bishop. Indeed, it has been argued that S Clement was not so much the Bishop/Pope, but just the presbyter in charge of correspondence! Again, I do not accept this, but, again, the fact that such an argument has been deployed does indicate the significance of the Presbyteratus Romanus. A little later, we have the account by Pope Cornelius of how a previous pope had begged for the favour of being allowed to ordain a particular presbyter who had been vetoed by the clergy and many of the laity; and Tertullian's (imaginative and scathing) account of Pope Callistus imploring the consent of the fraternitas to be allowed to absolve an adulterer. The Church of those centuries saw itself as corporate in a way that we find hard to imagine. Take the earliest letter to the Roman Church after S Paul's, the letter of S Ignatius: it does not actually mention a bishop; it is the Church which is said to preside (Kathemene). Nor does the passage in S Irenaeus which is our earliest evidence for the idea of the Roman Church as the locus par excellence of authentic doctrinal teaching contra haereses, locate that role specifically in the Pope, but in the Church. It all amounts, of course, to the precisely same thing; if Rome teaches authentic doctrine, and if its bishop is the ecclesiatical organ which enunciates that authentic teaching of the Roman Church ... well, Bob's your uncle. But these facts do bring me back to my initial point: Jorge Bergoglio is nothing; the Bishop of Rome is everything. Papa Bergoglio is Episcopus Romanus in et cum Ecclesia Romana. He is not a vagans.

My conclusion is the same as it was at the end of my first part. The Curia Romana is a body of theological significance. If I wished, in the time-honoured style of this University, to set a spoof quotation as an essay question, "Papa sine Curia Papa nullus: discuss" might occur to me ... and I would give deltas to those who argued in favour of or against the tag ... and better marks to those who subdivided their propositions and came out somewhere in the middle.
To be concluded.

2 comments:

Master Michael said...

Fr.,
I think it adds weight to your argument that the liturgy of the Papacy was in the later Middle Ages thought of as the use of the Curia.

Also I am glad you pointed out that the Curia is the successor, or perhaps representative, of the ancient Roman presbyterate.

All of which leads me to some dubia.

Since the presbyters are the "elders" of the diocese, and since we know that one reason we are to respect our elders is because they are the guarantors of tradition (cf. especially Rabbinical commentary on the 5th commandment), and since authority in the Church is based on tradition, does it not have the potential to weaken the authority of papal elections when the eldest members of the college of cardinals are denied the vote?

Likewise, what is or would be the effect of the retirement of the Pope and of Bishops? Does this weaken their authority as the guarantors of tradition?

Our Lord said that the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. In the early church many bishops died for their flock. Thereafter until quite recently, bishops were so for life. Does retirement not weaken the authority and witness of bishops, including the Pope, who are supposed to give their whole lives for their sheep?

The relationship between Christ and his Church is analogous to that between a husband and his wife. I have heard many bishops say they are married to their diocese. In some cases this being married to the church is cited as a reason while celibacy is especially suitable for priests, and always to be required of bishops. In the early church transfer of sees was frowned upon, and was supposed to be exceptional. Does it not then weaken the Church's witness to the indissolubility of the marital covenant when the pope and bishops retire, or bishops transfer sees habitually and often multiple times?

Tee Pee Gee Eff said...

"The Church of those centuries saw itself as corporate in a way that we find hard to imagine." The Council of Trent several times refers to the "res publica christiana" (e.g. Decree on Granting the Chalice, DS 1760). So the Church's self awareness as a corporation survived a long time.