19 June 2016

Ecclesiology and our current problems

I suspect that if you were to use the word Ecclesiology in any gathering of clergy or laity, eyes might glaze over. Yet in Ecclesiology is the major internal crisis afflicting the Christian world.

Perhaps the Anglicans started it ... with their notion of Provincial Autonomy; their belief that Scripture, the Law of God, the Sacraments, Holy Order, Gender are all interminably mutable at the say-so of a Parliament or a quasi-Parliamentary "Synod" in each local ecclesial community. Of the once proud Anglican Patrimony, the only authentic fragments surviving its inevitable and total collapse are the Ordinariates.

But things ecclesiological are not too well in the Catholic Church. After Vatican II, the idea arose that a pope could do anything; that he is an absolute monarch. The Vatican I linkage of the Papacy with Tradition was found to be an obstacle to the urgent need felt by powerful influences to utilise the Papacy in order to make a completely new start, and to do so within months rather than within decades.

That dangerous culture of rupture is now reaping its harvest during this calamitously dysfunctional pontificate, in which (not to stray beyond the immediately topical) the Roman Pontiff can apparently declare one day that the great majority of sacramental marriages is invalid, and a day later order the record of his words to be changed. I, as a married man with married children, have found this episode both cruel and unFatherly and deeply offensive. More importantly, it is but another example of Bergoglio's disturbing disregard of the Magisterium of his predecessors. Compare, if you will, his views with the considered and nuanced words of Pope S John Paul II on the same subject, expressed in his Address to the Roman Rota of Friday 21 January 2000.

Might some minds turn Eastwards? They would be ill-advised to do so. Whatever the official theoretical ecclesiology of the Separated Byzantine Churches is, whatever their practical ecclesiology, it seems to be unravelling before our very eyes. The Conciliarism promoted by some Orthodox apologists has often appeared to us Latins to be a convenient ad hoc paper polemic against Papism rather than something which vitally sustains Orthodoxy itself. And as the 'Holy and Great Council' of the Orthodox Churches meets this morning, we are told that it lacks the largest of those Churches; as of yesterday, the oldest of its Patriarchates, and a couple of other national churches, were not intending to be present and the Greek Church had needed to revise its list of representatives after (according to the Greek media) a dozen or so hierarchs declined to participate. So the Council is unable to provide, as was previously promised, unanimity of consensus even among the 'officially recognised' Orthodox Churches. How will it not instead merely precipitate a distinction within Orthodoxy between 'Conciliar Orthodox' and 'Anti-Conciliar Orthodox', to add to the existing division between 'Recognised Churches' and 'Unrecognised Churches'?

An able Orthodox writer, Protopresbyter Dr Peter Heers, in a persuasive book (The Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II), has argued in effect that Pope S Stephen was wrong and S Cyprian was right; that outside Orthodoxy there is no authentic ecclesial life. I am unconvinced that such 'back to the third century' radicalism can even be found consistent with large portions of Orthodox history. Did S Markos Eugenikos and his brethren really arrive at Florence loudly proclaiming that the Latins were all unbaptised pagans? But this is a book [my grateful thanks to the friend who sent me a copy] which intelligently and eruditely interrogates our assumptions and is impossible to ignore.

Perhaps out of the wreckage of our different crises we might be able to start to work our faltering way laboriously across the ruins to a new and vivifying integration of Ecclesiology. The writings of Joseph Ratzinger might provide some hand-rails through the trickier places. And we of the Anglican Patrimony could do worse than to blow the dust off the writings of Dix and Mascall and Jalland.

12 comments:

William Tighe said...


A prediction from 1895:

"It is obvious that there are questions on which the Russian Church could and ought to negotiate with the Mother See, and if these questions are carefully avoided it is because it is a foregone conclusion that a clear formulation of them would only end in a formal schism. The jealous hatred of the Greeks for the Russians, to which the latter reply with a hostility mingled with contempt — that is the fact which governs the real relations of these two national Churches, in spite of their being officially in communion with one another. But even this official unity hangs upon a
single hair, and all the diplomacy of the clergy of St. Petersburg and Constantinople is needed to prevent the snapping of this slender thread. The will to maintain this counterfeit unity is decidedly not inspired by Christian charity, but by the dread of a fatal disclosure; for on the day on which the Russian and Greek Churches formally break with one another the whole world will see that the Ecumenical Eastern Church is a mere fiction and that there exists in the East nothing but isolated national Churches. That is the real motive which impels our hierarchy to adopt an attitude of caution and moderation towards the Greeks, in other words, to avoid any kind of dealings with them. As for the Church of Constantinople, which in its arrogant provincialism assumes the title of “the Great Church” and 'the Ĺ’cumenical Church,' it would probably be glad to be rid of these Northern barbarians who are only a hindrance to its Pan-Hellenic aims. In recent times, the patriarchate of Constantinople has been twice on the point of anathematizing the Russian Church; only purely material considerations have prevented a split."

Vladimir Solovyev, *Russia and the Universal Church,* trans. Herbert Rees (London, 1948: Geoffrey Bles), pp. 67-68.

Fr. VF said...

If, in the 1960's, the Catholic Church had been in a healthy condition, there would have been universal rejection of changes in the Mass. The Pope simply had no right to fabricate a new Mass or impose it on anyone. Pope Benedict finally said so.

Ordo Antiquus said...

"it seems to be unravelling before our very eyes..."

Or the Orthodox could be giving us a lesson in what matters most: the principled defense of the truth. No time to explain everything now but the four absent Patriarchs are not doing this because they hate unity, far from it. They are doing this because they have principled objections to the way Constantinople has handled the preparatory process. A sham unity that papers over principled objections is useless. None of the Patriarchates said they did not desire a Council. The four absent Patriarchates asked for a postponement not that there be no Council at all. Very unfortunate that Catholic media are expending very little effort to understand the reasons behind the inter-Orthodox controversies over the so-called Pan Orthodox Council.

matthewgaul said...

Fr., yes, right on target.

When I first went Ukrainian Catholic in 2003, I thought their widespread sanity was the offspring of the tradition itself. That's part of it, and so is its 20th Century martyrdom, but the Orthodox suffer from much needless strife that the Eastern Catholic churches do not.

My latest conclusion, based solely on personal observation, is that being a subculture with an intermediary institution insulates one from a lot of the political malarkey of the dominant culture and its politics. If you share too much sameness with the Big Cheese in your communion, be he pope or patriarch, then your church will be subject to more political strife, as the grasping of the ambitious lusts after the biggest prizes, and the appointments of bishops and priests more subject to politics.

Granted, being a minority carries its own problems, but I think many folks would do well to seek out the smaller sui iuris churches, the Ordinariate, monastic liturgies, or even just parishes belonging to an order under a provincial who is not the local bishop.

mark wauck said...

@ Fr VF

"The Pope simply had no right to fabricate a new Mass or impose it on anyone. Pope Benedict finally said so."

I disagree that that is what Benedict said. As I read Summorum Pontificum, Benedict simply said:

1. "The Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the lex orandi (rule of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite." Benedict also asserts that Paul's Missal "revised and in part renewed" the Mass in response to the expressed desire of Vatican II. Nowhere does Benedict suggest that Paul was not within his rights to do what he did. The clear presumption is that Paul was within his rights.

2. "the Roman Missal, which was promulgated by Blessed John XXIII in 1962 [was] never abrogated" and "it is therefore permitted to celebrate" that Mass "as an extraordinary form of the Church’s Liturgy."

3. This is "permitted" in response to the "requests" of "not a few of the faithful [who continue] to be attached ... to the earlier liturgical forms."

Indeed, I would expect no more from a pope who would make statements such as the one I append below--nor would I have much confidence in such a pope's views on ecclesiology/ecclessiology:

“The role of the priesthood is to consecrate the world so that it may become a living host, a liturgy: so that the liturgy may not be something alongside the reality of the world, but that the world itself shall become a living host, a liturgy. This is also the great vision of Teilhard de Chardin: in the end we shall achieve a true cosmic liturgy, where the cosmos becomes a living host.” (Benedict XVI, Homily, Celebration of Vespers with the Faithful of Aosta, July 24, 2009)

Bear in mind, too, that Cardinal Kurt Koch further explained Benedict's intentions:

“Summorum Pontificum" is "only the beginning of this new liturgical movement...." "Benedict XVI knows well that in the long term we cannot remain with a coexistence between the ordinary and extraordinary forms in the Roman rite, but that the Church will again need in the future a common rite." (Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Address to Roman Symposium on the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, May 17, 2011)

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...


Dear Father. Another excellent display of courage on your part. Kudos.

ABS thinks that neither this Pope nor any future Pope will think privately what these two former Popes taught publicly:

Pope Pius XI “To be Christian one must be Roman. One must recognize the oneness of Christ’s Church that is governed by one successor of the Prince of the Apostles who is the Bishop of Rome, Christ’s Vicar on earth”

Pope Leo XIII Thus the man, so long as he lives on the body of the Catholic Church, he is a Christian; separated from her, he becomes a heretic”

Such truths are now thought execrable examples of our prior dark ages atavism which have been dissolved in Ecumenism, the Universal Solvent of Tradition.

O, and ABS stil prays the prayer for conversions he was learnt as a youth in the piemonte region of Vermont. It is a prayer that had at least three times been vetted by the Sacred Congregation to be sure it contained not one thing contrary to Catholic Truth.

Here is that prayer from the Raccolta:

Mary, Mother of Mercy and Refuge of sinners, we beseech thee, be pleased to look with pitiful eyes upon poor heretics and schismatics. Thou who art the Seat of Wisdom, enlighten the minds that are miserably enfolded in the darkness of ignorance and sin, that they may clearly know that the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church is the one true Church of Jesus Christ, outside of which neither holiness nor salvation can be found. Finish the work of their conversion by obtaining for them the grace to accept all the truths of our Holy Faith, and to submit themselves to the Supreme Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth; that so, being united with us in the sweet chains of Divine charity, there may soon be one only fold under the same one Shepherd; and may we all, O Glorious Virgin, sing forever with exultation: Rejoice, O Virgin Mary, thou only hast destroyed all heresies in the whole world. Amen. (Pope Pius IX)

Carlos said...

What is needed is a robust triarchy or pentarchy that sustained the Church in the first millenia, before Papism took over the west with the fall of the ancient patriarchates to the Muslims, and Autocephaly in the east, when Constantinople, backed by the emperor and his troops, could no longer prevent the surrounding peoples from proclaiming their own self-headed churches.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Father. This interesting post got ABS to thinking about the word, Ecclesiology, a category/entry not to be found in the early twentieth century edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia and then he remembered the observation made about the subject by a Catholic author, Mary Ball Martinez;

The word “ecclesiology” which until 1943 meant the study of church architecture and archeology, was now adopted to mean a study of how the Church looks at Herself. For more than nineteen hundred years there had been no name for such a study because there had been no such study. The Roman Catholic Church knew what it was, so did the hierarchy, the clergy and the faithful. Suddenly confronted with the new image indicated in the encyclical (Mystici Corporis), it seemed urgent to question what it was the Church really thought Herself to be. Overnight a new kind of theologian, the ecclesiologist, had to be invented and installed in seminaries, universities and on editorial staffs of Catholic publications.

Reader said...

Actually, Fr. Z. has pointed out at http://wdtprs.com/blog/2016/06/pope-francis-v-pope-francis-about-indissolubility-and-marriage/ that Francis the Apostate contradicted not only JPII (as Fr. Hunwicke points out) BUT Francis even contradicted Francis himself, because in a scripted talk last January he got it right, at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2016/january/documents/papa-francesco_20160122_anno-giudiziario-rota-romana.html

Rubricarius said...

I believe 'Ordo Antiquus' makes some excellent points above.

Today we learnt that Antioch never actually signed up for the putative Great Council anyway. There are some interesting parallels one could draw with Western Ecclesiology of the latter nineteenth century no doubt. The bias and ignorance of the media in giving the status of something like 'Orthodox pope' to Bartholomew plays to his ego. It seems that the Moscow Patriarchate is demonised by the media in the religious sphere as Putin is in the secular. The reality is that Constantinople, or if we are being honest a failing bishop in Instanbul, is of increasing insignificance. 'Bart' is desperate to bolster up Instanbul's crumbling influence. I expect his political machinations to control the would-be 'Great Council' instead of raising his status will, in the course of time, actually precipitate Istanbul's final and irrevocable downfall.

imperialreaction said...

Father, I sincerely hope you will dedicate some time to publishing a review or more extensive commentary on Fr. Peter Heers' book.

When it first came out and I read it, its incisive and very extensively footnoted critique of Unitatis Redintegratio and Lumen Gentium nearly pushed me into joining the catechumenate at a nearby Antiochian Orthodox church.

I've stepped back from the edge since then, and have instead taken safe refuge in the (N. American) Ordinariate (as Providence would have it, despite having no English blood or ties myself, and just getting familiarized with its peculiarities), but I will admit the book's arguments continue to be a bothersome thorn in my side.

Even if one doesn't follow Fr. Peter in embracing Cyprian against Stephen as regards Orthodox ecclesiology/sacramental theology, one may still find alarmingly convincing his distinction between the traditional Roman view (schismatics and heretics can be saved in spite of their participation in schismatic/heretical groups, being members of the Church in voto), and the new "communio" ecclesiology of Vatican II, according to which schismatic/heretical groups qua groups are vehicles of salvation. Every serious Catholic family member, friend or acquaintance I have consulted on the matter is a firm believer in the former, traditional view. Has Holy Mother Church pulled the ecclesiological rug from under our feet?

I would love to hear thoughts on that book's arguments from you and others much more capable than myself. To my dismay, I have yet to have seen any real substantive engagement with its critique on the Catholic side, and as a semi-regular reader of your blog, I got really excited that you gave it a mention!

On The Road To Damascus said...

Thank God for our Roman Communion.