15 September 2015

The limits of Papal authority over the Sacraments (1)

As an ex-sailor, my late father never liked to be out of sight of the sea. So, after the War, he sold a country house and estate he had created in the 'thirties and bought a house with a sea view at Clacton in Essex. For all those human generations before the Victorians invented the concept of the Watering Place, the coastal periphery of Essex had counted as the marshy back of beyond. But the next hamlet along the coast to the South of us had the ruins of a medieval abbey, founded as a shrine of S Osyth, a martyred Saxon princess. In view of the remoteness of this place, the Abbot managed to secure from the Pope a delegation for him to ordain his subjects to the diaconate and the priesthood, although he, the Abbot, was only in presbyteral orders. The bishop of London protested, and the delegation was cancelled within a year or so.

At least four cases of such purported delegation have by now emerged. This in the past caused problems to mainline Catholic theologians. Adolphe Tanquerey (1854-1932) wrote in 1897 "Presbyters cannot, even by delegation from the Sovereign Pontiff, be extraordinary ministers of the episcopate or the presbyterate, as is admitted by all". That doughty opponent of the validity of Anglican Orders, Dr E C Messenger (1888-1951), writing in 1936, described the idea that the Roman Pontiff could delegate such power as "completely opposed to Catholic tradition" and "practically given up now". But by the 1950s the wind was changing. Fr Bernard Leeming in 1956 described this alleged papal power as "now admitted by many theologians", and Fr John Bligh, also in 1956, admitted that "Some theologians have held that in the four ... Papal Bulls the popes were acting ultra vires, so that the ordinations performed by priest-abbots in persuance of them were invalid"; but he himself shied away from this conclusion in view of the fact that Cistercian abbots had ordained their subjects to the Diaconate for centuries. Charles Journet in 1955 quoted with approval the words of Lennerz (1953): "Sovereign Pontiffs have conceded this privilege to simple priests. Thus they can so concede it".

The great Anglican Catholic dogmatic theologian, Fr E L Mascall, (from whom some of the above information is taken) wrote in 1958 that the theologians who upheld the right of popes to delegate ordination to presbyters were in effect maintaining "the power of the Pope to overrule by his administrative authority the sacramental structure of the Church: they are arguing not for presbyterianism but for popery".
To be continued. No comments before I have finished.


Ann said...

Mascall, a great fan of Lonergan, be it noted.

Ann said...

Damn. This is complicated. I don't know if you've already seen my comment about Mascall being a close philosophical bud of Lonergan, the thick-nailed genius despised by Barth farts as a rude, but if you have then just ignore this, and if you haven't then, oh well, ignore this too. Damn. Needed to be said too.